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Longest running shows and musicals in West End history: the top 20

We crunch some numbers

We have a look at the West End
Left: Michael Le Poer Tench Centre: © Oxfordian Kissuth / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), right: Johan Persson

What are the longest running shows in the West End?

Venues across London have housed some titanic stage pieces that run for decades, but when it boils down to raw numbers, the top shows are a bit fascinating.

Oddly, "what is the longest running show" is quite a controversial question – some shows have, over the course of the last century, closed and then opened again, with different producers, directors and design teams at the wheel.

So we decided to go with longest running "productions" – as per the terminology of SOLT (Society of London Theatre) . Again – some controversy arises. Some productions have hopped between venues, musical numbers (and sometimes entire scenes) have been cut, company composition has varied and blocking has been altered.

We will therefore take our cues from Plato's ship of Theseus question of identity (yawn, sorry) – does a show remain the same, even if, over time, bits and pieces are replaced, with newer, fresher material added to keep it sturdy? To probably rankle a few philosophers (and theatre fans), we're going to say yes.

How up-to-date are these figures? SOLT's figures are correct as of 7 February 2020 – about a month before the lockdown kicked in. Arguably you could add the few concert performances of Les Misérables that were permitted in December, but we don't think that'll make too much by way of difference.

When it closed, Thriller Live was just three shows away from becoming the eleventh longest running West End musical of all time! That's the musical equivalent of "he was three days from retirement...".

From number crunching, that probably means each show played about 43-ish performances from when this tally was released to when lockdown hit (and froze most shows' runs in place). We've therefore asterisked shows where SOLT may not have the exact number (as the production had been playing since the report).

So, without further ado, here are the top 20 productions:

1. 28,152 performances – The Mousetrap (running since 1952)*
2. 14,156 performances – Les Misérables (running since 1985)*
3. 13,877 performances – The Phantom of the Opera (running since 1986)*
4. 12,573 performances – The Woman in Black (running since 1989)*
5. 10,013 performances – Blood Brothers (1988 production, now closed)
6. 8949 performances – Cats (1981 production, now closed)
7. 8750 performances – Mamma Mia! (running since 1999)*
8. 8506 performances – Disney's The Lion King (running since 1999)*
9. 7406 performances – Starlight Express (1984 production, now closed)
10. 6761 performances – No Sex Please, We're British (1971 production, now closed)
11. 6512 performances – Stomp (2002 production, now closed)
12. 6187 performances – Chicago (1997 revival, now closed)
13. 5635 performances – Wicked (running since 2006)*
14. 5140 performances – Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (1989 production, now closed)
15. 4659 performances – We Will Rock You (2002 production, now closed)
16. 4613 performances – Thriller Live (running since 2009)*
17. 4566 performances – Billy Elliot The Musical (2005 production, now closed)
18. 4344 performances – The Black and White Minstrel Show (1962 production, now closed)
19. 4264 performances – Miss Saigon (1989 production, now closed)
20. 3787 performances – Jersey Boys (2008 production, now closed)


Jersey Boys is set to return later this year at the Trafalgar Theatre.

Of the list, 15 are musicals, three are plays, one is a revue and another is a physical theatre performance. Speaking of musicals...



The top 20 musicals (we assume it's musical productions, rather than amalgamated versions of two productions (looking at you Chicago) are also a great bunch. We fully expect Mamma Mia! to overtake Cats at some point in the next year:

1) 14,156 performances – Les Misérables (running since 1985)*
2) 13,877 performances – The Phantom of the Opera (running since 1986)*
3) 10,013 performances – Blood Brothers (1988 production, now closed)
4) 8949 performances – Cats (1981 production, now closed)
5) 8750 performances – Mamma Mia! (running since 1999)*
6) 8506 performances – Disney's The Lion King (running since 1999)*
7) 7406 performances – Starlight Express (1984 production, now closed)
8) 6187 performances – Chicago (1997 revival, now closed)
9) 5635 performances – Wicked (running since 2006)*
10) 5140 performances – Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (1989 production, now closed)
11) 4659 performances – We Will Rock You (2002 production, now closed)
12) 4613 performances – Thriller Live (running since 2009)*
13) 4566 performances – Billy Elliot The Musical (2005 production, now closed)
14) 4264 performances – Miss Saigon (1989 production, now closed)
15) 3787 performances – Jersey Boys (2008 production, now closed)
16) 3478 performances – Matilda The Musical (running since 2011)*
17) 3357 performances – Jesus Christ Superstar (1972 production, now closed)
18) 3303 performances – Me and My Girl (1985 revival, now closed)
19) 2900 performances – The Book Of Mormon (running since 2013)*
20) 2900 performances – Evita (1978 production, now closed)

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