John Owen Jones in Les Miserables
John Owen Jones in Les Miserables

Star-studded openings and critiques of new shows may grab the bulk of the column inches and headlines, but it's the long-runners that keep the West End alive, according to nine out of ten avid theatregoers who took part in last week's poll on Whatsonstage.com.

Long-runners, many of them international brands in their own right, are a big draw to tourists, of course – including those flocking to London for the Olympics this summer – and they also attract remarkable repeat business, not least from the theatregoers who took part in the our survey: 41% percent of whom said they'd happily see their favourite show up to five times. At the furthest end of the scale, an extremely devoted 7% aim to see their favourite show 50 times or more – while one voter has already been to a production 382 times!

Why see a show – invariably a musical – so often? The most common reasons cited by the theatregoer fans surveyed revolve around discovering new aspects of the show, new performance interpretations and sharing the experience with show "virgins". More than half also said that, because they already know the show, they know they're guaranteed a great night out.

Hundreds of theatregoers also wrote in with anecdotes about their best experiences at long-runners** – Les Miserables featured most regularly (with nearly 100 submissions for it alone) followed by The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys and Blood Brothers.

Terri Paddock, managing and editorial director of Whatsonstage.com, commented: "As the awards season rolls on, it's easy to dwell on the ‘best new this' and the ‘best new that'; the results of this poll serve as a useful reminder that for many, it's the long-runners, and particularly the long-running musicals like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, that are the very definition of the West End."

This Big Debate poll ran on Whatsonstage.com from 6 to 13 March 2012 and 400 theatregoers took part.