Top 10 longest running musicals in West End history
The West End has been home to thousands of shows over the year, but there is occasionally a musical that is more popular than the rest. Some West End musicals have garnered a great legacy and have been around in the capital for many years. Whether it’s the incredible soundtrack, bright visuals or emotional storylines, we count down the 10 longest running West End musicals and why they have captured audiences for many years. Find out more about the 8 longest-running West End plays.
10: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (12th October 1989 – 3rd March 2002)
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story was one of the first ‘jukebox’ West End musicals. Dramatising the life of Buddy Holly, audiences saw Buddy travel to New York to pursue a performing career. With a soundtrack including “That’ll be the Day” and “Johnny B. Goode”, the production won Best New Musical at the 1991 Olivier Awards. The show has also toured the UK, breaking the record for the longest continuous tour at 4 years and 35 weeks.
9: Wicked the Musical (27th September 2006 – present)
Entertaining audiences at the Apollo Victoria Theatre since 27th September 2006, Wicked has bewitched 10 million audience members in London. When Elphaba and Glinda first meet at Shiz University, the pair form an unlikely friendship, and the green-skinned witch does not feel alone. After travelling to Oz to meet The Wonderful Wizard, Elphaba’s outlook on life changes. Finding herself at an emotional crossroads, she opposes the Wizard, later becoming known as The Wicked Witch of the West. With flying monkeys and a smoke-breathing dragon at the top of the stage, Wicked is a spectacular musical with a spellbinding soundtrack including “Defying Gravity” and “One Short Day”.
8: Chicago (18th November 1997 – 1st September 2012)
Running from 1997 to 2012, Chicago brought sultriness and sexiness to West End musicals. Set in 1920’s Chicago, two rival mistresses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart are against each other. When Velma is arrested for murdering her husband, she turns to Mama Morton and Billy Flynn to help get her out of jail. With Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, the show originally ran at the Adelphi Theatre, before transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in 2006. The show is known for changing casts regularly, but the original cast included Ruthie Henshall and Henry Goodman.
7: Starlight Express (27th March 1984 – 12th January 2002)
Performed over 7,000 times between 1984 and 2002, Starlight Express is a musical jam-packed with roller-skating. In the show, cast members skated around the Apollo Victoria Theatre in a renovated auditorium just for the production. The show tells the story of Rusty, a young steam-engine who is never used but wants to race in a championship against modern machines that are much more powerful. The original cast included Stephanie Lawrence and Frances Ruffelle. Currently, Starlight Express is performed at a specially-built theatre in Germany, where it is the country’s longest-running musical.
6: The Lion King (19th October 1999 – present)
In the stage adaptation of The Lion King, the show brings the Serengeti to the theatre, with cast members using hundreds of puppets to bring the animal kingdom to life. The show sees Simba set out on a journey from lion cub to King of the Pride Lands, but when caught in the middle of a stampede, the adventure isn’t an easy one. With many well-known Disney hits including “Hakuna Matata” and “Circle of Life”, audiences have been feeling the love tonight since 1999.
Mamma Mia has been entertaining audiences with the feel-good hits of ABBA since 1999. Before her wedding to Sky, Sophie cunningly sends separate invitations to her three potential fathers to come to her wedding without her mother knowing. When Donna realises her previous lovers are on the island, Sophie undergoes her own detective work to slyly realise her dreams of finding out who her father is before her wedding day a success. With songs including “Take A Chance on Me” and “Super Trouper”, the show will celebrate its 20th anniversary on 6th April 2019.
4: Cats (11th May 1981 – 11th May 2002)
Playing a total of 8,949 performances, Cats ran for exactly 21 years. A sung-through musical, the story tells of the “Jellicles”, a tribe of cats who have to decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back in a new life. Throughout the show, lots of cats get their time in the spotlight, including Grizabella as she wants to be accepted by the others. Cats is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most successful musicals and is currently being adapted for a film to come to cinemas in 2019. The soundtrack includes the show tunes “Memory” and “Macavity: The Mystery Cat”.
3: Blood Brothers (28th July 1988 – 10th November 2012)
With the book, music and lyrics penned by Willy Russell, Blood Brothers is the third-longest West End musical, with a run of over 10,000 performances. The show premiered in Liverpool in 1983, before transferring to the West End in 1987. It had a short run at first with a different script, before being revived in 1988 that is performed by casts today. Set in 1960s Liverpool, the story sees twins Mickey and Eddie reunite after being raised in separate families, later labelling themselves as “blood brothers”. Falling in love with the same girl, their relationship fractures so much that Mickey storms in with a gun when Eddie is giving a speech. The gun goes off at the end of a thrilling musical with a soundtrack including “Tell Me It’s Not True”.
2: The Phantom of the Opera (9th October 1986 – present)
Running at Her Majesty’s Theatre for over 30 years, The Phantom of the Opera is one of the West End and Broadway’s most successful shows. The musical includes theatre show tunes “All I Ask Of You” and “The Music of the Night” as well as the famous title song. When the Phantom’s obsession with the new singer at the Paris Opera House grows, the Phantom becomes possessive. Dragging Christine into his underground lair, he believes he is protecting her. Yet, as the show unfolds, the audience learns all about the Phantom and what lies underneath the mask. Over the years, many people have performed in the show including Ramin Karimloo, Sarah Brightman and Michael Ball.
1: Les Misérables (8th October 1985 – present)
The story of Jean Valjean trying to start a new life and break free from the shackles of being in a chain gang, Les Misérables has been in the West End since 1985. Set in the French revolutionary era, there is constant unrest, but as Valjean begins to turn his life around, he is left in charge of Cosette after her mother dies. Throughout the sung-through musical, young revolutionaries fight on the barricade to protect their lives and liberty. Hear the people sing recognisable songs including “On My Own”, “A Little Fall of Rain” and “Master of the House” as Les Misérables.