Phil Willmott

Celebrating the West End’s Longest Running Musicals of all Time. Part 3

Part three of our at a glance celebration of the twenty longest running West End musicals of all time.
Read part 2 here.

11. BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, 2005 – (closed, 4,566 performances)
Not currently playing in the West End this is a stunning life-enhancing multi-award winning show that only closed so that Cameron Macintosh could revamp the Victoria Palace Theatre as home for the Broadway mega-hit musical HAMILTON, when it transfers to London later this year. There was still plenty of demand to see the tale of working class boy, Billy, achieve his dreams of being a ballet dancer, in Margaret Thatcher’s fractured Britain; a filmed live performance even broke cinema box-office records, so I've no doubt producers will find a new home for it soon.

12. WICKED, 2006 – still running, over 4,291 performances
Every time I see this magical, witty, spectacular show telling the back-story of the witches from the Wizard Of Oz it makes me feel like a kid again. It’s the tale of how the green witch from the classic MGM Hollywood musical became such a misunderstood baddie and its classic plot of the bullied outsider finding self-worth will touch the heart of anyone who’s ever felt like an underdog. The gorgeous score stands up to repeat listening and this long-runner will certainly be regarded as an era defining musical. If you haven’t seen it, go!

13. MISS SAIGON, 1989 – (original 1989 production / closed - 4,264 performances)
By the same team who created Les Miserable this rather bombastic retelling of the opera MADAME BUTTERFLY felt overwrought and old fashioned in its recent revival at the Prince Edward Theatre and rather like being yelled at from the 1990s. The production’s headed to Broadway but I doubt we’ll see it again in London in the near future.

14. JERSEY BOYS, 2008 – still running, over 3,657 performances.
Hurry to catch the last months of this musical’s time in the West End. It’s the story of how pop stars Frankie Valley and his group The Four Seasons edged their way to international success from humble New Jersey beginnings in the 1960s. Their history is simply and strikingly told but it’s their string of hits that are the star of the show. I promise you, you’ll be amazed at how many of your favourite classic pop songs originated with these guys. Clever casting director Jill Green has ensured they’ve always been performed by fist class singers throughout the shows long run in the West End.

15. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, 1972 – (original 1972 production / closed, 3,357 performances)
When this daring, some said blasphemous show, first appeared as an concept album and then a hit stage show in the early 1970s it changed the course of musical theatre for a decade. Instead of the easy listening style of songs from 1950’s Broadway it had a gloriously pulsating British rock score of often operatic intensity which re-told the lives of Jesus and Judas Iscariot in a very immediate and human way. There are moments of comedy from the ineffectual King Herod, and the great drama of two young men in turmoil inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber and his then lyricist, Tim Rice, to write some of their most arresting and uncompromising musical theatre. I didn’t see last summer’s much admired revival at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park but there’ll be another chance to catch it when it moves to the West End later in the year. Can’t wait.

Read Celebrating the West End’s Longest Running Musicals of all Time. Part 4