facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Les Misérables at Queen’s Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

Les Misérables at Queen's Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

The 20 longest-running West End musicals

By Matt Schneiderman First Published 12 July 2018, Last Updated 23 April 2020

Updated 12 July 2018; first posted 12 July 2017

A musical playing to the West End is the culmination of many months (and sometimes years) of effort. Even then, London theatre runs can vary in length. To be successful, a musical must have memorable music, a moving story, and compelling characters played by believable actors. And to be a classic, a show must have these elements as well as something extra special to excite and delight audiences.

These 20 top London musicals sustained success for years—some for decades—as they entertained both residents and global visitors performance after performance.

The top 20 longest-running musicals in West End history*

1. Les Misérables 

LES MISERABLES TOUR. The Barricade. Helen Maybanks

1985 – present (over 13,964 performances)

Les Mis debuted in Paris in September 1980, before arriving in London’s West End on 8 October 1985. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel and set in revolutionary-era France, Les Misérables is the story of former convict Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption.

Its first three-month engagement at Barbican Theatre sold out, and the show has been running continuously in the  West End ever since, making it the longest-running musical in the world after The Fantasticks (off-Broadway).

 

2. The Phantom Of The Opera

The Phantom Of The Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre

1986 – present (over 13,629 performances)

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in October 1986 and celebrated its 10,000th performance in 2010 and 30th anniversary in 2016.

The story of a deformed musical genius’s obsession with a talented soprano, Phantom has won more than 70 major theatre awards and has been seen by more than 140 million people. It is the longest-running show in Broadway history and the first to reach 10,000 performances in New York.

 

3. Blood Brothers

 1988 – 2012 (10,013 performances)

Originally conceived as a school play, Blood Brothers is a musical about twin brothers who were raised separately but fall in love with the same woman.

It debuted and had a moderately successful but short run in the West End in 1983. A national tour in 1987 reignited interest in the musical, and it returned to the West End in 1988. It ran for more than 24 years before finally closing in November 2012.

 

4. Cats

1981 – 2002 (8,949 performances)

An Andrew Lloyd Webber-scored musical, Cats is about cats—specifically, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and their decision as to which cat is to be reborn into a new life.

Cats opened in the West End in 1981 and closed 21 years later in 2002, making it London’s longest-running musical until Les Misérables overtook it in 2006. An updated West End revival of Cats ran from December 2014 through April 2015, then again from October 2015 through January 2016.

 

5. Mamma Mia! 

(l-r) Kirsty Hoiles as Tanya, Mazz Murray as Donna & Ricky Butt as Rosie in MAMMA MIA_ Credit Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

1999 – present (over 8,498 performances)

Another world premiere that took place in the West End, Mamma Mia! opened 23 March 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre. It transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre in June 2004, before moving to the Novello Theatre in September 2012.

This jukebox musical is the story of a young bride seeking her father on a Greek Island, told through the music of Swedish band Abba. It has been seen by over 60 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages.

 

6. Disney’s The Lion King

Disney's LionKing at The Lyceum Theatre (Photo: Dewynters Photography)

1999 – present (over 8,258 performances)

While many blockbuster musicals are adapted for the big screen, Disney’s The Lion King is a musical that was adapted from a film, specifically the 1994 animated Disney film of the same name.

Like the movie, Disney’s The Lion King follows the Hamlet-inspired story of Simba, a young lion who challenges his murderous uncle for the throne of Pride Lands, and features music by Elton John. The Lion King recently overtook Starlight Express to become the 6th longest-running show in the West End.

 

7. Starlight Express

1984 – 2001 (7,406 performances)

Performed by actors wearing rollerskates and featuring sets with racetracks extended into and around the audience, the rock musical Starlight Express wowed West End theatregoers for 17 years, finally coming to a halt in 2001.

The story of rival trains battling for supremacy lives on in Germany, where it has been performed continuously since 1988.

 

8. Chicago 

Josefina Gabrielle and the cast of Chicago (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

(1997 revival production), 1997 – 2012 (6,187 performances)

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, this musical explores the criminal-as-celebrity theme with its story of two rival nightclub stars-turned-murderers.

It initially opened at the Cambridge Theatre in April 1979 and ran for 600 performances. In November 1997, the revival Chicago: The Musical opened at the Adelphi Theatre where it ran for 9 years before transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006, running there until September 2012.

After a five year absence, Chicago reopened in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre in early 2018 until 5 January 2019.

 

9. Wicked

Helen Woolf (Glinda) and Nikki Bentley (Elphaba). Photo By Matt Crockett.

2006 – present (5,383 performances)

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, an alternative version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz as told from the perspective of Oz’s witches, premiered on Broadway in 2003 and the West End’s Apollo Victoria Theatre in September 2006.

More than 8 million people have seen the London West End production.

 

10. Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story

1989 – 2003 (5,140 performances)

Considered the first jukebox musical, Buddy is the story of Buddy Holly’s rock ‘n’ roll career, including his years in a country & western band, his efforts as a solo artist, and his untimely death at age 22.

The bio-musical ran in the West End for more than 14 years and continues to play throughout England and at international venues.

 

11. We Will Rock You

2002 – 2014 (4659 performances)

Featuring songs by Queen, We Will Rock You was originally intended to be a biography about lead singer Freddie Mercury, but ultimately became a fantasy story about resistance against conformity in a dystopian future.

Despite initially harsh critical reviews, the jukebox musical drew approving audiences to the Dominion Theatre and remained popular until it closed in 2014.

 

12. Billy Elliot The Musical

2005 – 2016 (4,566 performances)

Like The Lion King, Billy Elliot is based on a movie and also features the music of Elton John.

The musical tells the story of a boy’s pursuit of ballet in a town beset by a mining strike. It premiered at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 2005 and ran through April 2016.

 

13.  Thriller Live

Thriller Live at the Lyric Theatre

2009 – present (over 4, 365 performances)

More choreographed concert than musical, Thriller Live is a non-stop playlist featuring highlights from Michael Jackson’s 45-year career, from his time with the Jackson 5 to Thriller and beyond.

Originally scheduled from January 2009 to May of the same year, the show run has been extended numerous times and continues to draw Jackson and pop fans to London’s Lyric Theatre.

 

14. Miss Saigon

1989 – 1999 (4,264 performances)

This retelling of Madame Butterfly takes place during the Vietnam War and portrays the doomed relationship between an American G.I. and his Vietnamese girlfriend.

Miss Saigon ran for 10 years at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane before closing in 1999, but returned to the West End in 2014 for a 760-performance revival run that included a 25th-anniversary performance. The revival closed in 2016.

15. Jersey Boys

2008 – 2017 (3,787 performances)

The jukebox musical Jersey Boys played the West End for nine years at Prince Edward Theatre, before moving to the Piccadilly Theatre in 2017.

Presented as a documentary dramatising the career arc of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll group The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys features well-known hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Sherry,” among others.

 

16. Jesus Christ Superstar

1972 – 1980 (3,357 performances)

Loosely based on the last week of Jesus’s life according to the Gospels, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar first opened on Broadway in 1971, closing two years later.

The show thrived in London, though, playing for eight years at the Palace Theatre and becoming the UK’s longest-running musical at the time. The musical was revived at the Lyceum Theatre in 1996 and ran for a year and a half, then returned again in 2016 and 2017 at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, a production which won the Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival.

 

17. Matilda The Musical

Matilda The Musical at Cambridge Theatre (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

2011 – present (over 3,304 performances in the West End)

The beloved Tim Minchin and Royal Shakespeare Company musical announced its arrival in the West End with a record-breaking (at the time) seven Olivier Award wins in 2012.

The story of a child with an incredible talent for learning – and getting her own back on her cruel parents and tyrannical headmistress – the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story started life at the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010, making the move to London in 2011. Since then, it’s delighted theatregoers in their droves, reminding us all that, “Sometimes, you have to be a little bit naughty!”

 

18. Me And My Girl

1985 – 1993 (3,303 performances)

This musical is set in the 1930s and tells the story of Bill Snibson, an unapologetically unrefined cockney man who learns he is the heir to the Earl of Hareford.

Me And My Girl had a successful original run in the West End in 1937, playing for 1,646 performances. It was revived in 1941, 1945, and again in 1949. A revised production opened in 1984 at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre and transferred to the Adelphi Theatre in 1985 where it played for eight years before closing.

 

19. Evita

1978 – 1986 (2,900 performances)

Another successful Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice production, Evita follows the life of Eva “Evita” Perón, the Argentine actor who became the country’s First Lady and a popular political leader.

The production opened in the West End in 1978 and on Broadway a year later, becoming the first British musical to win the Best Musical Tony Award. Its original run went until 1986 and it was revived twenty years later (2006) at the Adelphi Theatre.

 

20. Book Of Mormon

The Book Of Mormon, London, at The Prince of Wales Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

2013 – present (2,650 performances)

Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez, The Book Of Mormon is a satirical musical that takes shots at everything from organised religion to consumerism, the state of the economy and the musical theatre genre itself.

After nearly seven years of development, their musical opened to sold-out audiences on Broadway, before transferring to Prince Of Wales Theatre in London. The show went onto win four Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.

*Information supplied to Society of London Theatre, correct as of 5 July 2019. Ranked by number of performances.

You can see tickets for all current West End shows here.

Share

Sign up

Tagged:
disney's the lion king les miserables mamma mia matilda the musical the book of mormon the phantom of the opera thriller live wicked

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.