Below are the six longest-running shows currently on Broadway, with descriptions and links. This feels the right time for an update given that “The Phantom of the Opera,” the longest show in Broadway history, closed after 35 years on Sunday April 16, 2023, its 13,981st performance, and two of the shows on this list recently celebrated significant 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, which was record-breaking at the time (1939-1947). But times have changed.
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 (the team behind “Cabaret” ) 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. It won six Tony Awards, including Best Revival (the original hadn’t won any, although nominated for 11) 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.”
Now the longest running musical currently on Broadway (as of April 23,2023, it had 10,345 performances), it is the second longest ever. It will take about eight more years to surpass “Phantom of the Opera” and become the longest running in Broadway history.
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.
Celebrating The Lion King anniversary
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 show cemented stardom for original Elphaba Idina Menzel, who won a Tony for her performance, and original Glinda Kristen Chenoweth.
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 came under sharp criticism, including by past and current members of the cast in 2020; the script was reportedly revised in response in 2021.
My review of The Book of Mormon: Ridiculing Religion, Worshiping The Great White Way
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.
Aladdin Review: A Genie Works His Magic on Broadway
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
Hamilton on Broadway 2021. A cast of newcomers and returning favorites.
† Note: The first three shows on this list, “Chicago,” The Lion King, and “Wicked,” are not just the longest currently running shows on Broadway, they are also (after Phantom) the longest running shows in Broadway history. But “The Book of Mormon” is the 13th longest-running in Broadway history. Before it are eight longer-lasting shows that are no longer running:
5. Cats (10/7/1982-9/10/2000), 7,485 performances
6. Les Misérables (3/12/1987-5/18/2003), 6,680
7. A Chorus Line (7/25/1975-4/28/1990), 6,137
8. Oh Calcutta! (9/24/1976-8/6/1989), 5,959
9. Mamma Mia (10/18/2001-9/12/2015), 5,758
10. Beauty and the Beast (4/19/1994-7/29/2007), 5,461
11. Rent (4/29/1996-9/07/2008), 5,123
12. Jersey Boys (11/6/2005-1/15/2017), 4,642
There are another six after The Book of Mormon before Aladdin, and a further four before Hamilton.