Broadway’s Longest-Running Shows and Biggest Hits
December 23, 2013 2 Comments
Here are 15 of the longest-running and most popular shows on Broadway, listed alphabetically, with brief descriptions that include my take, and links where available to my initial reviews.
To buy tickets to these shows, check out their websites, go to their box offices, or see links to purchase tickets here.
The Book of Mormon
The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
Director: Jason Moore and Trey Parker
Twitter feed: @BookofMormonBWY
This musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (book), the creators of South Park, and Robert Lopez, one of the composer-lyricists for “Avenue Q” (music and lyrics) is about both the founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and modern disciples. It is outrageous, irreverent in one way, but also deeply reverent to (even while parodying) the best traditions of the Broadway musical.
Ambassador Theater (219 West 49th Street)
Opened: November 14, 1996
A chorus girl in 1920′s Chicago murders her lover and becomes a star. This cynical, tuneful 1975 musical adaptation by John Kander and Fred Ebb (“Cabaret” team) of a 1926 play was revived to great acclaim by director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking in homage to original choreographer Bob Fosse. But it has gone through many, many cast changes since then. Some say this is the production that invented the modern Broadway practice of “stunt casting.”
Almost everything is lovely about this revised version of the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical which is, incredibly, making its Broadway debut (it was written for television) — the terrific performances by a cast led by Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes, William Ivey Long’s lush, magical costumes, and above all the 17 gorgeous melodies, including “A Lovely Night.” The only exception to the loveliness is the jokey, cluttered, political correct book by Douglas Carter Beane.
August Wilson Theater (245 West 52nd Street)
Opened: November 6, 2006
The story of the 1950′s-60′s singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, whose hits include “December 1963 [Oh, What A Night]” (my favorite) as well as “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” etc. Here is what I wrote about the show, in an article entitled Jersey Boys vs. Jersey Shore: Although the music is better known than the musicians, and yes there are almost three dozen songs in the show, the story of the group is better than most of those ‘Behind The Music’ documentaries.
Opened: April 4, 2013
Cyndi Lauper’s Broadway songwriting debut, and the winner of the 2013 Best Musical Tony, adapts a 2005 British film shoemaker partners with a drag queen to make footwear sturdy enough for a man but fabulous enough for a woman. The show is familiar and safe, with a stand-out performance by Billy Porter as Lola/Simon.
Minskoff Theater (200 West 45th Street)
Opened: November 13, 1997
Based on the 1994 Disney animated film about the coming-of-age of a young lion in the African jungle, this musical offers African-inflected music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and the visual magic of Julie Taymor. Taymor is the director, a composer and lyricist for some of the songs. But above all, she is the designer of the costumes, masks, and puppets — and it is these visuals that make this show a good first theatrical experience — and worthwhile for any theatergoer no matter how experienced.
now at the Broadhurst
Opened: October 18, 2001
It’s hard even for hard-core Mamma Mia fans to argue that the story pieced together using some two dozen hits from the 1970′s pop group ABBA makes very much sense: A young woman getting married on the Greek island where she has grown up invites the three men who may be her father to the wedding, without telling her mother: She had summer-quickie affairs with all three. The lyrics of some of the songs don’t always actually fit with what’s supposed to be happening at any moment.
But fans don’t care. The infectious music, most memorably “Dancing Queen,” and the whimsical disco-era dance numbers are enough for them. And whatever else you may think about the musical, it is true what the fans say: It is not quite as cheesy at the Meryl Streep movie. “Mamma Mia” will move to the smaller, 1,156-seat Broadhurst Theatre in Fall 2013.
Shubert Theater (225 West 44th Street)
Unquestionably one of the best new musicals of the 2012-2013 Broadway season, “Matilda” is based on Roald Dahl’s dark children’s book about a girl with extraordinary gifts who is at first unappreciated by the adults. The musical offers dazzling stagecraft overseen by director Matthew Warchus, a faithful and intelligent book by David Kelly, and Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. The production also, however, sometimes feels in need of a translator. It is very British both in milieu and in enunciation.
Motown The Musical
It is easy to see this musical conceived, written and produced by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. as an affectionate tribute to himself, but most theatergoers will be able to overlook the lame book because of the performers, who deliver one show-stopping musical number after another. They don’t impersonate so much as channel the most popular entertainers of a generation: Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and on and on.
Update: Motown the Musical will close on Broadway January 18, 2015 but the producers say they will bring it back to Broadway in 2016.
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater
Opened: March 18, 2012
Based on the hit 2006 movie, Once tell the story of the romance between a Dublin street musician and a Czech immigrant. Its song “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar.
Majestic Theater (247 West 44th Street)
Opened: January 26, 1988
The Phantom of the Opera, based on a 1911 French novel by Gaston Leroux, is about a disfigured genius named Erik who lives in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House and falls in love with Christine, an aspiring singer whom he helps…until an old flame of Christine’s named Raoul steps back into the picture.
However, the story in the musical, written and composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber — with more than its share of 1980′s heavy power ballads — is starting to take second place to the story of the musical, which is the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, and probably the most profitable.
Webber has written a “sequel,” entitled “Love Never Dies,” which was set for Broadway in the 2010-2011 season, but, after scathing reviews in London, may never appear.
Music Box Theater
Director Diane Paulus has joined forces with inventive circus artist Gypsy Snider for the first-ever Broadway revival of the musical by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) about a prince who goes on a journey to find his “corner of the sky.” The production is at its best with the death-defying stunts by the various acrobats, aerialists and jugglers. The dazzle can do only so much to mask the muddled story and a score that is far from Schwartz’s best.
Rock of Ages
Brooks Atkinson Theater (256 West 47th Street)
Opened: April 7, 2009
It is 1987 in an L.A. club, and a girl meets a boy — she is new to town, he is shy but has the voice of an aircraft carrier and dreams of being a rock star. Both are smitten by the 1980′s rock songs of big-hair bands like Journey, Bon Jovi, and Poison….which you must be too, in order to appreciate this generally well-reviewed juke-box musical.
Gershwin Theater (222 West 51st Street)
Opened: October 30, 2003
The musical tells the story of “The Wizard of Oz” from the witches’ perspective, more specifically from the Wicked Witch of the West, who was not, as a child, wicked at all, but just green-tinted, taunted, and misunderstood. There is so much to like about this musical, the clever twists on the familiar tale, the spectacular set, and music that is a lot more appealing in context (such as the song “Defying Gravity”) that I will forgive the contortions necessary to tack on a happy ending.