Top 10 longest-running musicals currently in London's West End
Whether you’re looking to book a ticket to some of the best shows in town, or want a reminder of the best London has to offer, we revisit the 10 longest-running musicals in the West End which are still currently running.
1. Les Miserables
Opened 8th October 1985
Running in the West End for a whopping 32 years and counting, Les Miserables is the longest-running musical in the West End (and the second longest-runner in the world). With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, it is about the French peasant Jean Valjean who has served 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. On the hunt for redemption, he breaks his parole, but police inspector Javert is hot on his heels. It features the songs "I Dreamed a Dream", "Lovely Ladies", “Who Am I?” and "Do You Hear the People Sing?". After initially opening at the Barbican Centre in 1985 as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s programme, it opened at the Palace Theatre later that year, and transferred to its current home – the Queen’s Theatre – in 2004.
2. The Phantom of the Opera
Opened 9th October 1986
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera opened in the West End in 1986, when Lloyd Webber teamed up yet again with Cats producer Cameron Mackintosh. The composer wanted to write a romantic piece, using Gaston Leroux's book The Phantom of the Opera as a basis. What resulted was one of the most iconic pieces of British musical theatre. It is about the character Christine, a soprano singer who becomes the obsession of a mysterious musical genius who lurks beneath the Palais Garnier in Paris. It has been running at Her Majesty’s Theatre since 1986 and even spawned a sequel, Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies. Over the years, The Phantom of the Opera has seen many great actors take on the titular role, including Michael Crawford (originator), Peter Polycarpou, John Owen-Jones and Ramin Karimloo.
3. Mamma Mia!
Opened 6th April 1999
Written by band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia is arguably the world’s most successful jukebox musical, based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA. Featuring the hits "Super Trouper", "Dancing Queen", “Take a Chance on Me” and, of course, Mamma Mia, the story tells of Sophie who invites three men who may be her father to her wedding on the Greek island of Kalokairi. It first opened in the West End in April 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre, before transferring to the Novello in 2012.
4. The Lion King
Opened 19th October 1999
The first production of Disney’s musical The Lion King was mounted in Minneapolis in 1997, just three years after the smash-hit film premiered on the silver screen. The stage show boasts songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, including the classic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’, as well as additional musical score by Hans Zimmer. It tells the story of Simba, a young lion who must succeed his father as the King of the Pride Lands, with many of the cast dressed as animals or controlling giant hollow puppets. It has been running at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End since October 1999.
Opened 27th September 2006
Based on the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked tells the story of witches Elphaba and Glinda who enrol at Shiz University. The musical phenomenon opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in 2006 following three successful years on Broadway. So successful, in fact, that in March 2016 it joined The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera as the only Broadway shows to surpass $1 billion in total revenue. Fans love to see different actors take on the two lead roles (cast changes are must-see performances for die-hard fans), and the names who have donned the black hat include Louise Dearman, Willemijn Verkaik, Rachel Tucker, Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis.
6. Thriller Live
Opened 21st January 2009
Thriller Live is a concert revue which celebrates the music of The Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson’s subsequent solo career. It was written by the producer Adrian Grant, who is a family friend of the Jacksons. It opened at the Lyric Theatre in January 2009, scheduled to run for four months. However, following huge interest (especially after Michael Jackson’s passing in June of that year) the show extended multiple times and is now the 16th longest-running musical in West End history.
7. Matilda the Musical
Opened 24th November 2011
Tim Minchin’s first foray into musical theatre came when his musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel ran at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. It tells the story of Matilda, an intelligent young girl whose parents would rather she watched television then read her favourite books, and sees her sent to a school ran by the horrible head mistress Miss Trunchbull. Following its success, it opened at the Cambridge Theatre in late 2011. The playful musical was widely praised for its score, which includes the numbers “Naughty”, “When I Grow Up” and "Revolting Children". After it opened, the four actresses who shared the lead role became the youngest actors to ever win an Olivier Award.
8. The Book of Mormon
Opened 21st March 2013
The brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon took the pair eight years to fully develop with Avenue Q writer Robert Lopez. The story is of two Mormon missionaries who try to share their scriptures with residents of a remote Ugandan village. Running at the Prince of Wales Theatre since March 2013, the musical features the numbers “Hello!”, "You and Me (But Mostly Me)" and "Tomorrow Is a Latter Day".
9. Kinky Boots
Opened 15th September 2015
The latest entry on the list, Kinky Boots burst onto the Strand opening at the Adelphi Theatre in September 2015. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and songs from pop legend Cyndi Lauper, the musical tells the story of Charlie Price who finds himself at the helm of his late father’s struggling shoemaking factory in Northampton. In an unlikely pairing, he teams up with drag artist Lola as they look to create some truly unique heels. The show, which features the songs “Sex is in the Heel”, “Everybody Say Yeah” and “What A Woman Wants”, won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, and leading man Matt Henry took home the gong for Best Actor in a Musical.
10. Motown: The Musical
Opened 8th March 2016
It’s almost hard to believe a show that opened as recently as Motown: The Musical makes the list, but it’s been running at the Shaftesbury Theatre since March 2016 now. The show takes the biggest, best-loved hits from the Motown record label as the label’s stars gather for Motown’s 25th anniversary. The musical features the 66 of the label’s best hits including sons from The Jackson 5, Diana Ross, The Supremes and The Temptations.
Honourable mention, Stomp
Opened 25th September 2002
We know this isn’t strictly a musical, but it’s definitely worth a mention. The key to Stomp’s success may be that it is a show that transcends language. Created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, the cast use their bodies and everyday objects to create thumping beats and melodies – using everything from lighters to plastic bags, bin lids to kitchen sinks. As the show features no words, it is universally understood by all. The production opened in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre in September 2002 before transferring to the Ambassadors Theatre in 2007.