Before the days of the big screen, stage performances were all the rage. And in many ways, they still are. We love the cinema, but there’s something captivating about watching a live performance with trained professionals. Broadway is the best example of this; for years, some of the greatest live-action performances have taken place on the Broadway stage, and while many of them are long gone, some have stood the test of time.
10. Beauty and the Beast
A retelling of a Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast opened on April 18, 1994—just three years after the animated film was released. As the story goes, critics and producers of the time immediately saw the animated film’s potential as a Broadway musical and encouraged those at Disney to adapt it into a stage production. And adapt it they did, creating a live-action musical that would be performed 5,461 times before closing in 2007.
9. Mamma Mia!
Opening on October 18, 2001, Mamma Mia! ran for a total of 14 years before finally closing in September 2015. Fans of the story may be familiar with its 2008 film adaptation, though given the production’s extensive history on the Broadway stage, it’s clear that the story plays well in either medium. Mamma Mia! had 5,758 showings throughout its time on the stage, and we’re willing to bet that, once enough time passes, a revival will be in the stars.
8. Oh! Calcutta! (1976 Revival)
Unlike the other entries on this list, Oh! Calcutta! isn’t a musical—it’s a revue, and a fairly raunchy one at that. Sparking outcry during its initial release for its controversial content, this production gained acclaim and notoriety in equal measure across its 13-year run. Though the original production first entered the scene in 1969, it wasn’t until the 1976 revival that the show began to pick up steam. And with an impressive 5,959 shows across its life, there’s no doubt that this is the longest-running revue on the Broadway stage.
7. A Chorus Line
One of the oldest productions on this list, A Chorus Line first opened on July 25th, 1975. The play chronicles the personal lives of a series of Broadway dancers, making it a popular choice for theater aficionados interested in what goes on behind the curtain. The production closed on April 28, 1990, after 6,137 performances (though it was revived in 2006 and still runs to this day).
Opening on October 30, 2003, and still running to this day, Wicked is another Broadway favorite for those interested in a retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Wicked has been performed over 6,400 times on the Broadway stage to massive commercial and critical success. As of 2017, Wicked was one of only three Broadway productions to gross over a billion in revenue (alongside The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King) and currently stands as the second-highest grossing Broadway musical ever produced.
5. Les Misérables
Les Misérables, or Les Mis, is another one of those perennial Broadway favorites that has made its way into the mainstream. Opening on March 12, 1997, and closing on May 18, 2003, Les Mis was performed 8,860 times during its initial run. The production was revived in 2006 and again in 2016, being performed another 1,487 times in total.
Almost everyone has heard of Cats, even if they haven’t seen it live. First opening on October 7, 1982, the production ran for nearly 18 years before closing in September 2000. Of course, the production was revived again in 2016, but it’s still best known for its original run, where it was performed nearly 7,500 times on the Broadway stage.
3. The Lion King
Fans of Disney need no introduction to The Lion King, though chances are, few movie watchers have had the opportunity to see the story told on stage. Opening on November 13, 1997, this production is a live-action adaptation of the Disney classic. It has had over 8,900 showings since opening day, and it has the honor of being the highest-grossing Broadway musical ever made.
2. Chicago (1996 Revival)
The 1996 Revival of Chicago opened on November 14, 1996 to widespread critical acclaim. With nearly 9,300 Broadway performances on record and over a dozen awards to its name, Chicago is a mainstay on the Broadway stage. Though slightly outshone on this list by Phantom, Chicago has another distinction—being the longest-running revival to grace the Broadway stage.
1. The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway show on record, opening on January 26, 1988. This gothic classic has had more performances than any other show, coming quite close to 13,000 performances over 31 years. Originally based on a novel, the story has been retold many times across stage and film, with many theater-goers agreeing it’s one of the best musicals ever produced.
Unlike the movies, where films are released on a limited basis, Broadway shows can run for years. And when the show tells a story that the audience loves, the performances can go down in history as timeless classics. These performances are great examples—and they’re just a small sampling of the artistry you can find on the live stage.