From the West End to Broadway: 16 shows that transferred to America
When shows opens in the West End to critical acclaim, they are often destined for a Broadway transfer. There are some shows which manage to entertain audiences on both continents, winning Tony and Olivier awards. We take a look at some of the biggest success stories of shows that received a Broadway transfer and why American audiences loved shows that initially started on British soil.
Shows that premiered in the West End that have been on Broadway
The Phantom of the Opera
Hitting the high notes on Broadway from 1988, The Phantom of the Opera is arguably the most successful musical of all time. Running for over 30 years in both London and New York, the show has been praised for its spectacular production values, as well as a stunning soundtrack. The original Broadway cast starred Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, as they reprised their roles after originating the characters in London. Winning best musical at the 1988 Tony Awards, The Phantom of the Opera still entertains Broadway audiences at the Majestic Theatre and has been performed over 12,000 times.
One of the West End’s most successful musicals, Les Misérables was first performed on Broadway in 1987 at The Broadway Theatre. With Colm Wilkinson reprising his critically-acclaimed performance of Jean Valjean, the production was popular with audiences of all ages, selling over $4 million of tickets before it opened. The show ran at the Broadway Theatre for three years, before moving to the Imperial Theatre where it stayed until the show closed on 18th May 2003.
Matilda opened at the Shubert Theatre on 11th April 2013, bringing Roald Dahl to American theatres for the first time. With music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, the musical won best book at the 2013 Tony Awards. Telling the story of a young child with extraordinary telekinetic powers, Matilda ran for over 1,500 performances, closing on 1st January 2017. Matilda is currently in the West End at the Cambridge Theatre.
Flying in from the West End, the Mary Poppins umbrella opened even wider when the show first opened on Broadway in 2006. Audiences and critics loved seeing the “practically perfect” Disney film on stage, and it was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including best musical. Gavin Lee reprised his performance of Bert on Broadway, with Ashley Brown playing the delightful nanny until Scarlett Strallen assumed the role in 2008. Playing over 2,500 performances, the show bowed out of the New Amsterdam Theatre on 3rd March 2013. Mary Poppins will come back to the West End in 2019 at the Prince Edward Theatre.
After two years in the West End, Mamma Mia made its Broadway premiere at the Winter Garden Theatre on October 18, 2001. Louise Pitre won a Theatre World Award for the best actress in a musical for a debut performance, starring as Donna Sheridan and the show was also nominated for best musical at the 2002 Tony Awards. Broadway audiences loved the catchy ABBA songs and the 2008 film adaptation boosted the musical’s popularity. Running for just shy of 14 years, it closed on September 12, 2015 after being performed over 5,000 times.
Bringing the trenches to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, War Horse came to Broadway in 2011. Winning five Tony Awards, including best play and best direction, it was an unmissable piece of theatre, with critics praising the unique puppetry throughout the production. The story shows Albert, a young boy who travels to France at the height of World War One to bring his horse home. Sacrificing his life, Albert tries everything to get his horse back on British soil, but the show firmly stayed on American turf for over 18 months, closing on 6th January 2013.
Singin’ in the Rain
Based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film starring Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain had its world premiere at the London Palladium in 1983. With songs including ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, Singin’ in the Rain follows Don Lockwood as his silent movie career is changed with the looming ‘talkies’ films. Adam Cooper will reprise his performance as Lockwood at Sadler’s Wells in 2020.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
J.K. Rowling got everyone talking when she released Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in 2016. Eagerly anticipated by Broadway audiences, the West End production finally transferred to America, opening on Broadway in March 2018. Running their #KeepTheSecrets campaign, audience members are asked not to reveal any significant plot points on social media. Currently playing at the Lyric Theatre in New York and the Palace Theatre in London, the show is notoriously hard to get tickets for and it’s got everyone wishing they could conjure up tickets with a magic spell.
One Man, Two Guvnors
James Corden made a big impression on American audiences when he reprised his West End performance of Francis Henshall at One Man, Two Guvnors. Premiering on Broadway on 18th April 2012, the show was later nominated for seven Tony Awards, with Corden winning the award for best actor in a play. American crowds loved the brash and bawdy nature of the show and flocked to the Cockney rhyming slang fuelled production until its limited engagement ended on 2nd September 2012.
Miss Saigon first entertained Broadway crowds in 1991, after premiering in the West End in 1989. With a storyline inspired by Madame Butterfly, a romance develops between The Engineer, a United States Marine and Kim, a Vietnamese woman. Their love is tested as they have to prove themselves to each other in the midst of war. With Lea Salonga and Jonathan Pryce assuming the lead roles of Kim and The Engineer after their West End performances, American audiences enjoyed watching a musical set in the Vietnam War. Miss Saigon closed on 28th January 2001 but recently enjoyed a ten-month revival from 1st March 2017 to 14th January 2018.
Rollerskating from the West End to Broadway in March 1987, Starlight Express underwent a significant transformation to suit an American audience. The shows were noticeably different, as the Broadway production saw characters racing across America for a trophy called the “silver dollar”. The Gershwin Theatre was renovated for a skating track to be built inside the auditorium. The grand design was effective, so much so that the New York Times likened the auditorium to a “pinball machine”. Andrew Lloyd Webber made changes to the music and lyrics, updating the production. Starlight Express ran for 22 months, closing in January 1989.
Dramatising the competitive relationship between legendary composers Mozart and Salieri, Amadeus is an example of a highly successful West End play that transferred to Broadway. With a star-studded cast list including Ian McKellen and Jane Seymour, it swept the board with awards, winning best play at the 1981 Tony Awards, as well as Ian McKellen receiving three awards for his performance as Mozart. Playing for 1,181 performances, the production closed on October 16, 1983. Currently, it is a rare play in the top 100 longest-running Broadway shows ever.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Bringing the classic family movie to the stage, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang made its world premiere in the West End in 2002, before transferring to Broadway in April 2005. Raul Esparaza led the cast as Caractacus Potts as he tries to rescue Grandpa Potts with the help of his children Jeremy and Jemima. However, the shows were not equally successful, and Broadway’s flying Chitty car was only in action for eight months, closing in December 2005.
Broadway audiences were taken to heaven with the opening of Sister Act at the Broadway Theatre in 2011. Deloris Van Cartier moves to a convent in California for protection, but her days of singing in lounges on the outside don’t end. When Deloris joins the choir, the convent gets soulful as the nuns learn to raise their voice. Patina Miller made her Broadway debut in the role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg and the show received Tony nominations for best musical and best original score. Despite this success, Sister Act only ran for ten months, closing on 26th August 2012.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl’s beloved story was first performed in the West End on 25th June 2013. Americans wanted to taste the sweet treat, and the show later transferred to Broadway on 23rd April 2017. The show was reworked, notably casting adults in all the child roles apart from Charlie Bucket. Christian Borle played Willy Wonka, taking audiences inside the magical factory but the show only ran for eight months closing on 14th January 2018.
Gas Light (Angel Street)
Regarded as one of the best thrillers, Gas Light also known as Angel Street was first performed at the Richmond Theatre in London in 1938. Written by Patrick Hamilton, the play gave prominence to the act of “gaslighting”; mentally abusing a victim through making them doubt every decision. After a short off-Broadway run in 1948, the show finally made its Broadway premiere at the Lyceum Theatre in 1975. Playing for 1,295 performances, it is the 14th longest-running play to be performed on Broadway.
As well as West End to Broadway, find out what shows jumped to our side of the pond with our list of shows from Broadway to the West End.