Emmie Newitt

The Timeless Appeal of London's West End: A Glimpse into its Longest-Running Shows

Take a journey through some of the longest-running shows that continue to draw crowds, enchanting generations in the West End.

gruffalo west end castSondheim Theatre. Photo by Martino Battista.

London’s West End is the heart of the UK’s theatre, synonymous with world-class performances and unforgettable experience that has inspired audiences for generations. Over the years, six shows have not only captivated audiences but they have also stood the test of time, becoming iconic fixtures in the landscape of musical theatre. Our guide to all of the London Shows in 2024 will also keep you up to date with the latest shows heading into the city.

The Phantom of the Opera

phantom of the opera 2024Jon Robyns as The Phantom & Lily Kerhoas as Christine. Photo by Johan Persson

Since its debut at His Majesty's Theatre on October 9, 1986, The Phantom of the Opera has mesmerised audiences with its haunting tale of love and obsession. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, this musical is based on Gaston Leroux's novel and tells the story of a mysterious masked figure who haunts the Paris Opera House and falls in love with a beautiful young soprano, Christine Daaé. The production's lavish sets, stunning costumes, and unforgettable score, featuring songs like "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You," have made it a perennial favourite. With over 14,000 performances and counting, it remains a cornerstone of the West End.

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Les Misérables

les miserables londonLes Miserables 2023/24 cast. Photo by Danny Kaan

Opening on October 8, 1985, at the Barbican Centre before moving to the Palace Theatre and subsequently the Queen's Theatre (now the Sondheim Theatre), Les Misérables has become a monumental success. Based on Victor Hugo's epic novel, this musical follows the struggles and triumphs of various characters in post-revolutionary France. The stirring score by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, includes iconic numbers such as "I Dreamed a Dream," "One Day More," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" Its powerful narrative of redemption, love, and revolution has resonated with millions, making it the longest-running musical in the world.

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The Mousetrap

the mousetrap west endThe Mousetrap production image

For a taste of classic whodunit, look no further than The Mousetrap. This Agatha Christie play has been a staple of the West End since its opening at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 25, 1952, before moving to St. Martin's Theatre in 1974. Known for its surprising twist ending, The Mousetrap has been captivating audiences for over seven decades. Its remarkable longevity is a testament to Christie's masterful storytelling and the public's enduring fascination with mystery and suspense.

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The Lion King

lion king west endThe Lion King production image.

Disney's The Lion King roared onto the Lyceum Theatre stage on October 19, 1999, and has been a spectacular hit ever since. Based on the beloved 1994 animated film, the musical features music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and a captivating score by Hans Zimmer. What sets The Lion King apart is its groundbreaking use of puppetry and stunning visual design, which bring the African savanna and its animal inhabitants to life. The story of Simba's journey from cub to the king is both visually and emotionally powerful, ensuring its place as a West End favourite.

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Mamma Mia!

mamma mia mothers dayStevie Doc and Mazz Murray in Mamma Mia. Credit Brinkhoff/Moenburg

For a lighter, more joyous experience, Mamma Mia! is the perfect choice. Debuting at the Prince Edward Theatre on April 6, 1999, before later moving to its home at the Novello Theatre, this jukebox musical features the music of ABBA. The feel-good story, set on a Greek island, revolves around a young bride-to-be's quest to discover the identity of her father, leading to a series of comedic and heartfelt moments. With timeless hits like "Dancing Queen," "Super Trouper," and "Take a Chance on Me," Mamma Mia! guarantees a night of fun and nostalgia.

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Wicked castLucy St. Louis and Alexia Khadime in Wicked The Musical.

Since its debut at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on September 27, 2006, Wicked has cast a spell on audiences with its imaginative re-telling of the Wizard of Oz story. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, this musical explores the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West and her unlikely friendship with Glinda the Good Witch. The show's spectacular visual effects, intricate set designs, and powerful performances, particularly the show-stopping number "Defying Gravity," have ensured its status as a West End staple.

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These shows, with their compelling stories, unforgettable music, and stunning performances, continue to enchant audiences from around the world. Whether you're a seasoned theatergoer or a first-time visitor, the magic of London's West End is an experience that transcends time, leaving an indelible mark on all who enter its enchanting world.