No trip to New York is complete without seeing a Broadway show. The most famous theatre district in the world, Broadway is a 13 mile strip in Manhattan that is full of culture, lights, and theatre magic. The most popular shows on Broadway are the musicals, to the point that the very word “Broadway” has become synonymous with the American style of musicals made famous by the Great White Way. There’s no business like show business, but what many don’t realize is that show business can be big business.
Here’s a list of the highest grossing, longest running, and most significant Broadway shows going on right now. We only included shows that are still going: unfortunately, “Mamma Mia” ended its first run in 2015, so it barely missed this list. However, it is the most popular “jukebox” musical of all time (a musical that uses popular music). If you want to see the longest-running Broadway shows to date, check out Playbill’s comprehensive list.
Here are 4 current shows that embody the spirit of Broadway, and are also busting box office records:
There haven’t been very many new Broadway shows that have crept their way onto the list of the longest running and highest grossing Broadway musicals. “Wicked” is not only an exception to this rule; it’s gross has been exceptional. Debuting in 2003, the story of the Wicked Witch of the West’s untold and ill-fated friendship with Glinda the Good Witch and how she came to become one of our culture’s most famous villains has made over a billion dollars. And as long as it’s run continues, it’ll soon unseat “Mamma Mia” to become the 8th longest running Broadway musical of all time. Currently, “Wicked” sits at 9th place for all time.
The only show on this list to spawn a film adaptation that went on to win Academy Award for Best Picture, the revival of 1975’s “Chicago” has been running ever since it reopened in 1996. This makes it the second longest running Broadway musical of all time, and the longest running show to debut on Broadway. Like many Broadway musicals, it had its origins in a different medium: a non-musical play written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about a pair of female murderers: the star Velma Kelly and her rival, the fame hungry Roxie Hart, as they try to make themselves famous while awaiting trial. The original show was choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse, who dramatized this busy portion of his life in the 1979 film “All That Jazz” (he was also directing a film based on the life of Lenny Bruce, entitled “Lenny”).
The story of “The Phantom of the Opera” is an odd one. The Gaston Leroux novel had already been adapted twice into film with Lon Chaney and Claude Reins portraying the title role, respectively, when Andrew Lloyd Webber crafted the definitive stage version of this tale about a soprano’s obsession with a maimed and musically gifted recluse who lives under the Palais Garner. Now, “Phantom” is synonymous with Broadway — and with good reason: it’s been running since 1988, which means it currently holds the title of the longest-running musical in the world. Not only that, but “Phantom” was also the most financially successful musical until it was surpassed in 2014 by…
“The Lion King” is truly a dynamo in the world of Broadway. It launched the career of Julie Taymor, who went on to become the first woman to win a Tony for directing for her work on the show. She also won a Tony for the costume designs and even helped with the script. “The Lion King” is based on the Disney blockbuster, which follows the coming of age, framing of, and triumphant return of the rightful king of the Pride Lands, Simba. “The Lion King” may only be the third longest running Broadway show, but it’s the highest grossing, which is incredibly impressive when you consider it started its run nine years after “The Phantom of the Opera.” Boasting innovative puppet work and the music of Elton John, “The Lion King” on stage stands alongside the film as an inspiring example of what each respective medium can do.
Have a great experience with one of these shows or want to talk about your favorite show? Sound off in the comments! And learn more about musical theatre at NYFA!