The longest-running West End musicals

LES MISERABLES. One Day More.
LES MISERABLES. One Day More. Credit: Johan Persson

London’s West End is home to some of the most iconic and long-standing musicals in the world.

These productions have enchanted audiences for decades, showcasing the depth and diversity of musical theatre.

From timeless classics to modern masterpieces, here’s a look at the longest-running musicals in the West End, offering a glimpse into their captivating stories and the magic they bring to the stage.

All figures up to September 2023.

1. Les Misérables (over 15,000 performances)

Running since 1985, Les Misérables has surpassed over 15,000 performances, making it one of the most beloved musicals in West End history. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, it tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict seeking redemption, set against the backdrop of 19th-century France. Its powerful narrative of struggle, love, and justice, combined with its memorable score, continues to resonate with audiences worldwide.

2. The Phantom of the Opera (over 14,717 performances)

Since 1986, The Phantom of the Opera has captivated over 14,717 audiences with its haunting romance and spectacular staging. Set in the Paris Opera House, it tells the story of a disfigured musical genius, known as the Phantom, who falls obsessively in love with a young soprano, Christine. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mesmerizing score, including classics like The Music of the Night, has made it a must-see.

3. Blood Brothers (10,013 performances)

The 1988 production of Blood Brothers enjoyed 10,013 performances before closing. This compelling musical tells the story of twin brothers separated at birth, only to be reunited by a twist of fate and a mother’s secret. Its exploration of themes such as class, family, and destiny, combined with its emotional depth, made it a standout show in the West End.

4. Mamma Mia! (over 9,667 performances)

Mamma Mia! has been a West End sensation since 1999, with over 9,667 performances. This joyous musical features the timeless songs of ABBA, woven into a story about family and identity, set on a Greek island paradise. It’s a heartwarming tale of love, laughter, and friendship, proving to be an uplifting experience for all.

5. Cats (8,949 performances)

The 1981 production of Cats reached 8,949 performances, bringing T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to life. This innovative musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber explores the many personalities and stories of the Jellicle cats, culminating in the selection of one cat who will ascend to the Heaviside Layer. Its imaginative set and costumes, along with hits like Memory, have left a lasting legacy.

6. Disney’s The Lion King (over 8,897 performances)

Since 1999, Disney’s The Lion King has enchanted over 8,897 audiences with its breathtaking visuals and music by Elton John and Tim Rice. The story of Simba’s journey from cub to king of the Pride Lands, overcoming betrayal and adversity, is a testament to the circle of life. Its innovative puppetry and staging bring the savannah to vibrant life, making it a family favorite.

7. Starlight Express (7,406 performances)

The 1984 production of Starlight Express offered a unique experience with its actors performing on roller skates, achieving 7,406 performances. This musical tells the story of Rusty, a young steam engine, who dreams of becoming the fastest and winning the heart of the observation car, Pearl. Its combination of speed, stunts, and spectacle made it an unforgettable show.

8. Wicked (over 6,513 performances)

Running since 2006, Wicked has seen over 6,513 performances, offering a fresh perspective on the Land of Oz. This prequel to The Wizard of Oz explores the untold story of the witches of Oz, Elphaba and Glinda, and how they came to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West and the Good Witch of the North. Its themes of friendship, acceptance, and the nature of evil have captivated audiences.

9. Chicago (6,187 performances)

The 1997 revival of Chicago brought the razzle-dazzle of the 1920s to the West End, closing after 6,187 performances. This sizzling musical, set in Jazz Age Chicago, tells the story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two murderesses who find themselves in a battle for fame, fortune, and acquittal. Its sharp wit and catchy score, including All That Jazz, have made it a classic.

10. Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (5,140 performances)

The 1989 production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story told the tale of the musical icon, charting his rise to fame and tragic early death, through 5,140 performances. Featuring Holly’s greatest hits, this musical offers a celebration of his life and the indelible mark he left on the world of music.

11. We Will Rock You (4,659 performances)

The 2002 production of We Will Rock You brought the anthems of Queen to the West End, running for 4,659 performances. Set in a future where musical instruments are banned, the story follows a group of rebels who fight against the all-controlling Globalsoft Corporation to bring rock music back to the people. This musical is a testament to the enduring legacy of Queen’s music and its ability to inspire freedom and rebellion.

12. Thriller Live (over 4,613 performances)

Running since 2009, Thriller Live celebrated the career of Michael Jackson, achieving over 4,613 performances. Unlike a traditional musical, this show is a concert-style performance featuring a compilation of the King of Pop’s greatest hits, from his early days in the Jackson 5 to his rise as a global superstar. Its energetic dance routines and iconic songs made it a thrilling experience for audiences.

13. Billy Elliot The Musical (4,566 performances)

The 2005 production of Billy Elliot The Musical tells the heartwarming story of a young boy who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 miners’ strike in Northern England. With 4,566 performances, its powerful narrative of following your dreams, despite societal expectations, and Elton John’s moving score, resonated deeply with audiences.

14. Matilda The Musical (over 4,354 performances)

Since 2011, Matilda The Musical has charmed over 4,354 audiences with its story of a young girl with extraordinary intelligence and telekinetic powers. Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved book, this musical celebrates the power of imagination and the strength to stand up against adversity. Its witty book by Dennis Kelly and captivating songs by Tim Minchin make it a delight for both children and adults.

15. Miss Saigon (4,264 performances)

The 1989 production of Miss Saigon is a tragic tale of love and loss set during the Vietnam War, reaching 4,264 performances. It tells the story of a young Vietnamese woman named Kim and an American GI named Chris, whose lives are torn apart by the war. Its emotional depth and sweeping score, including the iconic helicopter scene, have left audiences moved and mesmerized.

16. Jersey Boys (3,787 performances)

Jersey Boys, which closed after 3,787 performances, chronicles the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, detailing their rise from the streets of Newark to the heights of pop music fame. This biographical musical features the band’s hit songs, offering a behind-the-music look at their trials and triumphs. Its engaging narrative and catchy tunes, like Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry, made it a crowd-pleaser.

17. Jesus Christ Superstar (3,357 performances)

The 1972 production of Jesus Christ Superstar brought a rock opera retelling of the last weeks of Jesus Christ’s life to the stage, achieving 3,357 performances. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this groundbreaking musical offers a contemporary perspective on biblical events, highlighted by powerful songs and emotional intensity.

18. Me and My Girl (3,303 performances)

The 1985 revival of Me and My Girl delighted audiences with 3,303 performances. Set in the 1930s, it tells the story of Bill Snibson, a cockney man who learns he is the long-lost heir to the Earl of Hareford. Its humorous exploration of class and identity, along with catchy tunes like The Lambeth Walk, made it an enduring favorite.

19. The Book Of Mormon (over 3,202 performances)

Since 2013, The Book Of Mormon has entertained over 3,202 audiences with its satirical take on the misadventures of two Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda. Created by the minds behind South Park, this musical combines irreverent humor with catchy songs, challenging and entertaining audiences with its bold narrative.

20. Evita (2,900 performances)

The 1978 production of Evita captured the life of Eva Perón, the First Lady of Argentina, through 2,900 performances. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this powerful musical features hits like Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and explores the complexities of ambition, power, and legacy, leaving a lasting impact on its viewers.

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About the author: Rachel Wise

UK based freelancer journalist Rachel contributes regularly to Stageberry with features and interviews from the hottest new shows and stage stars.