“The Phantom of the Opera” has been running on Broadway longer than many of the industry’s hoofers have been alive. But on Friday, the show announced that it will close Feb. 18, a few weeks after celebrating its 35th anniversary.
The musical holds a distinction unlikely to be overtaken any time soon: It is the longest-running show in Broadway history, by a long stretch. By the time it closes, if all goes well, it will have played for 13,925 performances.
Many of Broadway’s longest-running shows closed years ago, including the original productions of “Cats,” which ran for 7,500 performances; “Les Misérables,” which had 6,691 performances; and “A Chorus Line,” which had 6,137.
“Phantom” has been enormously profitable and has reached a huge audience: As of Sept. 11, the Broadway production had been seen by 19.8 million people, and had grossed $1.3 billion. Globally, “Phantom” is even bigger, thanks to productions in London and on tour, and those will continue after the Broadway show closes.
And what will be the most-enduring-and-still-running shows on Broadway once “Phantom” closes? “Chicago” celebrated its 25th anniversary last fall; “The Lion King” is preparing to celebrate that same milestone this fall. Here’s a look at the four remaining productions that have been playing for more than a decade:
‘Chicago,’ Opened 1996
It turns out that the combination of sex and murder is a potent one. This show, with a plot about a group of women jailed for killing their husbands or lovers, is beloved for its jazz score, its Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, and its dark satire of the justice system.
The musical, with songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Fosse, first opened on Broadway in 1975 and ran for just two years. But then in 1996, the Encores! program at New York City Center staged a bare-bones revival and it was so successful that it transferred to Broadway. That revival, with Walter Bobbie as director and Ann Reinking as choreographer, is now the second-longest running show in Broadway history, and once “Phantom” closes, it will be the longest-running show still open.
The show has a huge sustainability advantage over all of the other long runners — its weekly running costs are much, much, much lower, thanks to the simplicity of the production (one set, no costume changes, minimal automation and 14 onstage musicians, which is about half the size of the “Phantom” orchestra) plus aggressive cost management. And the show benefited enormously — and somewhat unexpectedly — from the success of a 2002 film adaptation, which won the Academy Award for best picture.
But still, the musical, which has been enormously dependent on tourists, and has relied heavily on news-making casting to goose grosses (Pamela Anderson cycled in to play Roxie Hart earlier this year), seemed soft before the pandemic and its grosses are volatile again now. Its continued longevity is unknown; it has proved doubters wrong many times in the past, but what happens next depends on whether international and business travelers return in greater numbers.
As of Sept. 11, the Broadway production of “Chicago” had run for 10,114 performances; it had been seen by 9.8 million people and had grossed $711 million.
‘The Lion King,’ Opened 1997
This show really is the king of the jungle, and the pride of Disney, which claims that “The Lion King” has grossed more than any other title in entertainment history.
The Broadway musical, adapted from the animated film, this fall will celebrate its 25th anniversary. And it is the strongest of the long-running shows, thanks in part to its innovative use of eye-popping puppetry and masks to tell a mythic story, but also because of the strength of the Disney brand, and the show’s enduring appeal for families.
Directed by Julie Taymor, the show is about a lion cub who must overcome the circumstances of his father’s death in order to succeed him; it features pop-style songs by Elton John and Tim Rice as well as South African music by a team of writers including Lebo M.
As of Sept. 11, the Broadway production of “The Lion King” had run for 9,740 performances; it had been seen by 16.4 million people and had grossed $1.8 billion.
‘Wicked,’ Opened 2003
Rejoicify indeed! This musical, which imagines a sympathetic back story for the villainous Wicked Witch of “The Wizard of Oz,” overcame skeptical critics to become an enormous hit that is playing in Broadway’s biggest theater (the Gershwin), and shows no signs of slowing down.
Adapted from a novel by Gregory Maguire, the show has appealed to audiences who love the clever riff on a beloved story, and it has also cultivated a devoted fan base that includes many repeat attendees thanks to its focus on female friendship.
The musical, which opened in 2003, features songs by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman; it is directed by Joe Mantello. A long-delayed film adaptation starring Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo, directed by John M. Chu, is now in the works; it is scheduled to be released in two parts, starting in late 2024.
As of Sept. 11, the Broadway production of “Wicked” had run for 7,268 performances; it had been seen by 12.9 million people and had grossed $1.5 billion.
‘The Book of Mormon,’ Opened 2011
It’s hard for comedies to stand the test of time, but “The Book of Mormon” is still going strong, more than a decade after it opened to raised eyebrows and rave reviews.
The musical, developed in part by the team behind “South Park,” is a biting satire, not only about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also about religion more generally, and its “can-they-really-say-that” humor, combined with its masterly deployment of old-fashioned song and dance, has made it a main stem mainstay.
The show, which opened in 2011, faced more challenges than its competitors during the pandemic, as one of the lead producers, Scott Rudin, stepped back over allegations of bullying behavior, and after some critics questioned whether the musical’s depiction of African villagers was offensive. But the show’s three writers, Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, retooled elements of the script and staging, and its grosses have held up.
As of Sept. 11, the Broadway production of “The Book of Mormon,” directed by Parker and Casey Nicholaw, had run for 4,131 performances; it had been seen by 4.5 million people and had grossed $704 million.