Below are the seven longest-running shows currently on Broadway, with descriptions and links. This feels the right time for an update given that the longest one has announced a closing date, and two of the others have just celebrated anniversaries.
These are all musicals. There was a time when straight plays had the longest runs: “Life of Father” ran for seven years and eight months, at the time (1939-1947) record-breaking. But times have changed. The most recent of the musicals listed below will surpass that play’s run this seasons *.
The Phantom of The Opera
Majestic Theater (247 West 44th Street)
Opened: January 26, 1988
Director: Harold Prince
The Phantom of the Opera has announced it will close February 18, 2023, shortly after its 35th anniversary.
Based on a 1911 French novel by Gaston Leroux, the musical 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 there.
Ambassador Theater (219 West 49th Street)
Opened: November 14, 1996
Director: Walter Bobbie
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 lasted little more than two years in its original incarnation. But some two decades later, director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking revived it, in homage to original choreographer Bob Fosse. And it’s been around ever since, having gone through many, many cast changes since then. Some say this is the production that invented the modern Broadway practice of “stunt casting.”
After February, 2023, it will become the longest running musical currently on Broadway.
The Lion King
Opened: November 13, 1997
Director: Julie Taymor
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, and 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.
Gershwin Theater (222 West 51st Street)
Opened: October 30, 2003
Director: Joe Mantello
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.
The Book of Mormon
The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
Directors: Trey Parker and Casey Nicholas
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) and Frozen (both movie and musical), 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. Its depiction of Uganda hasn’t aged well.
New Amsterdam Theater
Opened: March 20, 2014
Director: Casey Nicholas
Based on the 1992 Disney animated film, “Aladdin” tells the story of the street urchin of the title who falls in love with Princess Jasmine and is used by the evil Jafar to retrieve the magic lamp, letting loose the genie. The musical restores the songs that were cut from “Aladdin” film, and adds a new one. The score is not Alan Menken’s best, but even middling Menken can be rousing and mellifluous, and one song in “Aladdin” is both: “A Whole New World,” which won an Oscar.
Richard Rodgers Theater
Opened: August 6, 2015
The story of the first Secretary of the Treasury, told as a rap opera, is groundbreaking and breathtaking. It has become a phenomenon on Broadway — and elsewhere! I’ve seen it four times, and have written about it so many times that I’ve put together a post called Everything Hamilton