The top ten longest-running West End shows ever
We all have our favourite theatre productions, whether they’re feel-good musicals, or witty, gripping plays. However, whilst many of these shows come and go, there are a select few which continue to play to West End audiences for a long time. We’re going to revisit the top 10 longest-running West End shows that have ever played in London, but will your favourite make the list?
Longest-running West End shows
Set in Chicago during the jazz-era of the roaring ‘20s, Chicago tells the tale of two nightclub stars-turned-murderers, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Velma enlists the help of prison matron Mama Morton and smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, however, ambitious Roxie, doesn’t let things run smoothly. Chicago recently played in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre to celebrate the production’s 21st anniversary. Chicago‘s original West End run was from 18th November 1997 to 13th July 2012.
9. Starlight Express
Starlight Express, is about a child’s train set that comes to life and competes to become the fastest engine in the world. Choreographed by Arlene Philips, the actors performed on roller-skates with racetracks extended into and around the audience. This rock musical shows West End theatregoers the possibility of theatre and skating combined, entertaining audiences for 17 years right from when it opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on 27th March 1984 to 12th January 2002.
8. The Lion King
Disney’s multi-award-winning musical The Lion King will redefine your expectations of theatre as this beloved film has been transformed into a spectacular theatrical experience exploding with glorious colours and stunning effects. It tells the story of Simba, a wide-eyed cub who must succeed his father as the King of the Pride Lands, although facing some power struggles along the way. The Lion King has in fact been running at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End since it opened in October 1999, and has captivated audiences for over two decades with well-loved tunes like ‘The Circle of Life’ and ‘Hakuna Matata.’
7. Mamma Mia!
Written by ABBA band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia is the ultimate feel-good show, featuring the hits ‘Super Trouper,’ ‘Dancing Queen’ and, of course, ‘Mamma Mia.’ It tells the story of Sophie who invites three men who may be her father to her wedding on a remote Greek Island, which can never end too well! It first opened in the West End in 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre before transferring to its current home, the Novello Theatre in 2012.
Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was London’s longest-running musical until Les Misérables overtook it in 2006. Based on T. S. Eliot’s much-loved Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, it tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and their decision as to which cat is to be reborn into a new life. It began life with drama ahead of its 1981 opening at the New London Theatre, when the show’s original Grizabella, Judi Dench, snapped her Achilles tendon, leaving her to be replaced. It played from 11th May 1981 until 11th May 2002. Since closing, the musical has toured the UK featuring the likes of Nicole Scherzinger and Leona Lewis.
5. Blood Brothers
Written by Willy Russell, originally as a school play, Blood Brothers is a captivating and moving musical about Scouse twin brothers, Mickey and Eddie who were separated from birth, but fall in love with the same woman. It grew over the years into a heart-warming show leaving the entire theatre in tears night after night. It ran from 28th July 1988 to 10th November 2012, being one of the few musicals to have surpassed 10,000 performances in London’s West End.
4. The Woman In Black
This truly terrifying play has been spooking audiences from 7th June 1989 to the present day. It tells the chilling tale of a lawyer, Arthur Kipps who is sent to settle the estate of a recently deceased woman. The Woman In Black’s current home was built in 1924 on the ashes of the Albion Pub, making it a suitably spooky setting for Stephen Mallatratt’s spine-tingling adaptation from Susan Hill’s best-selling novel turning into one of the longest-running shows in Theatreland.
3. The Phantom Of The Opera
One of the most successful musicals of all time, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of The Opera is a jaw-dropping spectacle, inspired by real events that happened at the Paris Opera in the early nineteenth century. The Phantom is feared by all, and the only love he holds in his heart is for a young performer, Christine, who he takes under his wing. Since the musical opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 9th October 1986, the show has captivated audiences worldwide, and continues to do so.
2. Les Misérables
Les Misérables is the longest-running musical in the West End, and second longest in the world. Featuring the songs “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Lovely Ladies” written by the wonderful Claude-Michel Schönberg, it has become an absolute classic. Set in revolutionary-era France, it tells the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption. After initially opening at the Barbican Centre on 8th October 1985, it opened at the Palace Theatre later that year, and transferred to the Queen’s in 2004, re-opening at the Sondheim Theatre in December 2019. Test yourself on the history behind the longest-running musical here.
The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running theatre production, in the West End since 25th November 1952. Legendary crime novelist Agatha Christie’s timeless thriller sees a group of people gathered together in a remote country house only to discover there is a murderer in their midst. The question is, who can it be? Unfortunately, the original terms of the play state that the film rights cannot be sold until after the play has been closed in the West End for more than six months. Some eager film producers have been waiting for a very long time!