I recently heard that one of my favorite shows, Wicked, was poised to take over the 11th spot on the list of longest-running Broadway shows (overtaking Miss Saigon). I'm excited that it's so close to cracking the coveted top ten, but this also got me thinking about how shows manage to attract audiences for so long.
After thousands of performances, there must be something really special about a show that can continue to hook new generations of theatregoers. After all, there are a lot of good shows that close quickly, leaving fans shocked and bewildered. Theatre is a business, and you need a seriously good plan to have a real blockbuster on your hands. Here's a little list of things that really help.
How to Make it Big on Broadway
- Be by Andrew Lloyd Webber - The top two shows (by a fairly wide margin) were penned by the master himself, ALW. Originally premiering on London's West End, these shows proved there crossover appeal by killing on Broadway (and Phantom still does). With a combination of brilliant melodies and timeless, slightly odd stories, these shows have wide appeal.
- Be by Disney - Let's face it. Disney has a monopoly on family-friendly entertainment. The Lion King, one of the most successful movies of all time, was not an easy transfer to the stage, but it has thrived there and wowed audiences with its artistic spectacle. And Beauty and the Beast's charming characters and catchy tunes never disappoint.
- Win a Pulitzer - Musicals rarely win Pulitzer Prizes, but A Chorus Line and Rent have such rich, poignant material that they achieved this high honor in addition to being huge commercial successes. It is certainly a stamp of approval that goes a long way toward selling a show.
- Keep the cast interesting - The current production of Chicago on Broadway is known for "stunt casting," or changing up the performers in the lead roles to attract new audiences. They've kept the seats filled with celebs such as Christie Brinkley, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ashlee Simpson, Wendy Williams, Marilu Henner, Patrick Swayze, Brooke Shields, Kara DioGuardi, Usher, Jerry Springer, Rita Wilson, Alan Thicke, and Melanie Griffith.
- Be really, really good - Les Miserables is one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen, and even though it is a tragic tale, millions of people all over the world have a special place in their hearts for this epic musical.
- Have a gimmick - Mamma Mia! is hardly a high-brow or thought-provoking experience, but with the music of ABBA, it has a built-in audience of fans of the Swedish pop group (it's a huge draw for European tourists who want to sing along). The songs are quite infectious, I must admit, and the show doesn't take itself too seriously, so it is harmless fun. Oh, Calcutta is a revue made up of sketches about sex. Enough said.
The Top Ten Longest-Running Broadway Shows*
- The Phantom of the Opera - 10,647 (still running)
- Cats - 7,485
- Chicago - 6,973 (still running)
- Les Miserables - 6,680
- The Lion King - 6,565 (still running)
- A Chorus Line - 6,137
- Oh! Calcutta! - 5,959
- Beauty and the Beast - 5,461
- Rent - 5,123
- Mamma Mia! - 4,923 (still running)
*By performance count as of 9/3/13