It’s no secret that a hit Broadway musical is the definition of a cash cow.
During the 2018-19 season alone, Broadway shows grossed more than $1.8 billion and were attended by more than 14 million people, both of which set all-time records. There are plenty of ways you can define success on The Great White Way — Tony wins, cast album sales, total ticket sales, are just a few examples — but we are choosing longevity as the best measurement.
We’ve rounded up the musicals that have played more performances than any others in Broadway history — and you may be surprised by a few of the ones that didn’t make the cut.
For example, the smash hit “Hamilton” has run for more than 1,700 performances since its debut in August 2015 — but that’s not enough to crack this list. Perhaps even more incredible is that a show as iconic as “Oklahoma,” which ran for more than 2,200 performances from 1943 to 1948, also failed to make the cut.
All our statistics come from Playbill’s list of the longest-running Broadway musicals, which was accurate as of October 2019. Here are the most successful musicals ever on Broadway.
25. ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ (2014-2019)
The newest musical to make the list, “Beautiful” wrapped up a historic Broadway run in October 2019, when it closed after 2,416 performances over the span of nearly six years. It tells the true story of singer-songwriter Carole King’s rise to stardom, including her songwriting partnership with husband Gerry Goffin. The show failed to win best musical honors at the 2014 Tony Awards, but it ran for nearly three times as many performances as the show it lost to, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
24. ‘The Producers’ (2001-2007)
A show that had absolutely no problem racking up Tony wins was “The Producers.” This blockbuster, stage musical version of Mel Brooks’ classic 1968 movie about a pair of swindling Broadway producers who scheme to put on the worst show in history, won a record-breaking 12 awards at the 2001 Tonys. Broadway icons Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were the co-stars in a stellar original cast that also included Roger Bart, Gary Beach and Cady Huffman. It’s somewhat shocking “The Producers” hasn’t been revived on Broadway yet, seeing as its beloved run ended in 2007.
23. ‘Kinky Boots’ (2013-2019)
Just edging out the box-office shattering run of “The Producers” was this blast of a musical co-written by Cyndi Lauper and Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein. “Kinky Boots” tells the story of a young man who inherits a failing shoe factory but turns the business around by partnering with a drag performer named Lola. The show won six Tonys in 2013, including best musical and a best actor statue for Billy Porter, who first brought Lola to life.
22. ‘Avenue Q’ (2003-2009)
“Avenue Q” starred a bunch of humans and puppets singing about life on their titular inner-city street — but that’s where the comparisons with “Sesame Street” come to an end. This warped musical won best musical in 2004 and immediately took off as an unlikely Broadway smash that lasted for more than six years in the same theater where the family favorite “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” made its debut in 1971. With bouncy songs like “If You Were Gay,” “The Internet is for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” it’s safe to say Chuck and the Peanuts gang wouldn’t have been allowed to buy a ticket.
21. ‘Mary Poppins’ (2006-2013)
It’s crazy to think that it took more than 40 years for “Mary Poppins” to be made into a stage show, but when Disney finally made the move, it was a huge hit. The musical used the classic film’s songs co-written by the Sherman Brothers, added a few new ones and had a script penned by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes. “Mary Poppins” delighted audiences for more than 2,600 shows over a span of more than six years but fell short of best musical honors at the 2007 Tonys, losing to Duncan Sheik’s “Spring Awakening,” which lasted just under 900 performances.
20. ‘Hairspray’ (2002-2009)
Yet another hit show that involved Harvey Fierstein and drag was 2002’s “Hairspray.” The show was based on director John Waters’ 1988 movie and followed a teen girl in the 1960s who achieves her dream of dancing on a popular TV show, which ends up having plenty of unforeseen ramifications for her life. Fierstein won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for his role as the girl’s supportive mother. “Hairspray” also won best musical honors at the 2003 Tonys, further cementing its status as one of Broadway’s most successful shows.
19. ‘My Fair Lady’ (1956-1962)
With a dream original cast that included Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway, it’s no wonder “My Fair Lady” was a record-setting hit. It’s the oldest musical to reach the 2,000-performance plateau, wrapping its remarkable run two years before the next oldest one would even debut on Broadway. The show was a lively adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” about two rich men and their wager about a low-class girl. It won six Tonys in 1957, including best musical, but Andrews was somehow snubbed, losing to Judy Holliday in a best musical actress category that also included the legendary Ethel Merman.
18. ‘Hello, Dolly!’ (1964-1970)
Hot off the heels of “My Fair Lady’s” demise, “Hello, Dolly!” debuted in 1964 and instantly became a phenomenon. The musical was about a meddling matchmaker and her plot to marry a rich man. Original star Carol Channing made the role of Dolly into a theatre institution and would herself revive the role twice more on Broadway. But this original run surpassed 2,800 performances and broke a record by winning 10 Tony Awards in 1964, including best musical and best musical actress for Channing.
17. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (1964-1972)
The landmark show “Fiddler on the Roof” debuted on Broadway about nine months after “Hello, Dolly!” and the two shows became mainstays for the rest of the 1960s. But it was this show, about a Jewish milkman in 1900s Russia, that lasted longer and became the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances. The original cast included Zero Mostel and Bea Arthur and was directed by Jerome Robbins, adding to his incredible career in the theatre. “Fiddler” would dominate the 1965 Tonys, winning nine awards, including best musical.
16. ‘Grease’ (1972-1980)
Unlike some others on this list, “Grease” actually originated on the stage before being adapted elsewhere, most notably in the 1978 movie musical. The original cast of this show, which took a look at the lives of teenagers at a high school in the 1950s, included Barry Bostwick as Danny and Carole Demas as Sandy. “Grease” was nominated for seven Tonys in 1972 but didn’t win a single award. But this show would have the last laugh, becoming one of the biggest Broadway hits of the 1970s and outlasting best musical winner “Two Gentlemen of Verona” by more than 2,700 performances.
15. ’42nd Street’ (1980-1989)
In another stage adaptation that was a long time coming, “42nd Street” was based on a movie musical from 1933. It tells the story of a small-town chorus girl who takes the lead in a show after the star breaks her leg. Broadway favorite Tammy Grimes played the lead role of Dorothy and was joined by Jerry Orbach in the original cast. “42nd Street” would win best musical and best choreography honors at the 1981 Tonys but lost out on its six other nominations. The photo below was taken at a 2007 performance of the musical.
14. ‘The Book of Mormon’ (2011-Present)
Performances: 3,610 (and counting!)
This one rapidly climbed the ranks of the highest-grossing shows in Broadway history, thanks to commanding an average price of $161 per ticket during its run thus far and nearly $500 for its best seats, according to Broadway World. “The Book of Mormon” comes from the co-creators of “South Park” and presents a story about a pair of young Mormon missionaries who travel to Africa to convert people to their religion. The hit musical helped make Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells into stars after they led the original cast. It won nine Tonys on 12 nominations in 2011, including best musical, and remains a tough ticket to score.
13. ‘Miss Saigon’ (1991-2001)
The first show from the 1990s to hit the 4,000-performances mark was “Miss Saigon.” This musical was inspired by the 1904 opera “Madame Butterfly” but moves the story from Japan to Vietnam, where an American soldier falls for a Vietnamese woman during the final days of the war there. It’s a truly epic romance and original co-stars Jonathan Pryce and Lea Salonga each won a Tony for their performances in 1991. However, “Miss Saigon” lost best musical honors to “The Will Rogers Follies,” which ran for a respectable 981 performances.
12. ‘Jersey Boys’ (2005-2017)
The 2006 Tony Award winner for best musical was a smash hit from start to finish during its 11-year Broadway run. “Jersey Boys” was a musical biography of The Four Seasons, and was loaded with the group’s hit songs. John Lloyd Young, who played Frankie Valli in the original cast, won best musical actor honors for his starring performance. “Jersey Boys” was a huge box-office attraction, commanding an average ticket price of more than $106 during its time on stage.
11. ‘Rent’ (1996-2008)
One of only two musicals on this list to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1996’s “Rent” is recognized as a landmark in the national conversation about AIDS. The show is an updated version of the 1896 opera “La Bohème” and follows a diverse cast of aspiring artists in New York, including a dancer who is living with the disease. The original cast was packed with young talent, including Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp. The show’s most famous number, “Seasons of Love,” remains one of the great modern classics of Broadway history.
10. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1994-2007)
About three years after Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” became an animated masterpiece, the company took the story to Broadway and made even more money from it. Susan Egan and Terrence Mann co-starred as Belle and Beast in the original cast, both earning Tony nominations in the process. Of the show’s nine nominations in 1994, it would only win a single honor, losing in the best musical category to Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion,” which ran for just 280 performances. “Beauty and the Beast” would do nearly 20 times that many performances, delighting audiences for more than 13 years.
9. ‘Mamma Mia!’ (2001-2015)
The first massive Broadway hit of the 2000s was this fun musical that was packed with the music of Abba. Its plot involved a young woman who invited three of her mother’s former lovers to her wedding in Greece to try to figure out which one is her father. Tina Maddigan and Louise Pitre played the original daughter-mother pair on Broadway, and the show became a smash with audiences, even if it didn’t earn much hardware. At the 2002 Tony Awards, “Mamma Mia!” was shut out in all five of the categories it was nominated, including best musical.
8. ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ (1976-1989)
“Oh! Calcutta!” is unique from other musicals on this list for several reasons. It’s a revue comprised of loosely related sketches only linked by the theme of sexuality. Oh, and the entire cast performs while naked! The show was a bit controversial when it debuted on Broadway in 1976, after playing in London’s West End, but audiences ended up loving it, giving “Oh! Calcutta!” a run that’s never been matched by another revue. It finally closed in 1989, after a streak that lasted nearly 13 years.
7. ‘A Chorus Line’ (1975-1990)
Now we’re getting into the rarefied air of shows that have played more than 6,000 times on The Great White Way. The first musical to ever do that was 1975’s “A Chorus Line,” which is the other show on this list to have won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, along with “Rent.” This powerful show looked deep under the skin of theatrical performers, following a group of hopefuls backstage as they audition for a Broadway musical. “A Chorus Line” was an instant landmark, winning nine Tonys in 1976, including best musical.
6. ‘Les Misérables’ (1987-2003)
The biggest Broadway hit of the 1980s not to be created by Andrew Lloyd Webber was this truly epic story set during the French revolution. “Les Miz” would play for more than 16 years on Broadway, but it all started in 1987 with a cast that included Colm Wilkinson and Terrence Mann, both of whom were nominated for best musical actor honors at the Tonys. Both actors would lose, but the show itself took home eight awards, including best musical. Numbers like “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” remain immortal favorites of show-tune-lovers.
5. ‘Wicked’ (2003-Present)
Performances: 6,696 (and counting!)
The biggest hit of the 2000s, “Wicked” recently surpassed “Les Misérables” in initial-run performances, and its uninterrupted run since 2003 continues today. According to Broadway World, “Wicked” is the second highest-grossing show in Broadway history, pulling in more than $1.3 billion in ticket sales so far, commanding an average ticket price of more than $111, according to Playbill. The opening night cast was a theatre-lover’s dream, including Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey and Norbert Leo Butz, among others.
Menzel would win a Tony for best musical actress, but the show was largely unsuccessful at the 2004 ceremony, losing best musical honors to “Avenue Q.”
4. ‘Cats’ (1982-2000)
When “Cats” made its original Broadway run, it shattered all the records for longevity and ticket sales. The show, conceived by Andrew Lloyd Webber, took poems by T.S. Eliot about felines and turned them into a unique and magical bit of live theatre. “Cats” won seven Tonys in 1983, including best musical, and it would become a mainstay on Broadway for nearly 20 years before finally closing in 2000 as the longest-running show in history at the time.
3. ‘The Lion King’ (1997-Present)
Performances: 9,162 (and counting!)
Disney’s electrifying stage version of “The Lion King” is the highest-grossing show in Broadway history by a solid margin, according to Broadway World, so it could be argued that it’s actually the most successful musical ever. But it’s not the longest-running show. This unique interpretation of the beloved 1994 animated film uses artistic costuming to portray the animals while having the human actors remain fully visible the entire performance. It also features the great music of Elton John and Tim Rice. “The Lion King” won six Tonys in 1998, including best musical.
2. ‘Chicago’ (1996-Present)
Performances: 9,554 (and counting!)
The sexy, jazzy musical “Chicago” originally ran on Broadway in 1975, but it was this 1996 revival that has been a marathon runner for 23 years and counting. The show, which follows a woman who murders her lover and turns the crime into a publicity grab, combined the considerable talents of Broadway legends Bob Fosse, John Kander and Fred Ebb behind the scenes. The original cast of this run — which is the longest-running revival in history — included Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton, all of whom won Tonys for their performances in 1997.
1. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1988-Present)
Performances: 13,230 (and counting!)
This race isn’t even close and likely never will be. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” has been running steadily on Broadway for more than 30 years and has become an icon of New York tourism in its own right. It’s the only show to have surpassed 10,000 performances — although “The Lion King” and “Chicago” are nipping at that milestone — and continues to wow audiences and be accessible to many new theatre fans, with an average ticket price of about $65 during its reign. It won seven Tonys in 1988, including best musical, and has dominated the Broadway record books since then.