June 20, 2018 / 11:14 AM

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'Chicago,' 'Cats,' 'The Lion King' and More: Broadway's 7 Longest Running Theater Productions


This week marks several important dates for long-running Broadway productions, as Grease closed on this date during 1980 after 3,883 performances—at that point the record for longest running show in history in the New York theatre district—and just this week Mamma Mia! pulled the plug after getting to no. 8 all time with 5,582 total performances. So yes, the record has lengthened greatly since Grease first closed its doors. The following are the 7 longest-running Broadway plays in history, including Cats, Chicago, The Lion King and more:

07) Oh! Calcutta! (5,959 performances)

Although the numbers you'll see on this list are huge, most Broadway shows can't crack 1,000 showings, so producers are eager to milk a production for as much as it's worth before shutting down. The record-setting performance Oh! Calcutta! was actually the second run of the hit revue. Combined with the first (which had already run for 1,300 performances from its 1969 founding), Calcutta was the first production ever to crack 1,000 views during its first two runs, proving that the conservative population was perhaps not-so-conservative (it's a rather risqué performance). Due to its incorporation of both songs and comedy sketches, Oh! Calcutta! is classified as a revue, and is therefore the longest-running revue in Broadway history.

06) A Chorus Line (6,137 performances)

Although Oh! Calcutta! did achieve the crown for longest-running production briefly during the '80s, it wouldn't hold the crown for too long: A Chorus Line had actually started on Broadway a year before the aforementioned revue, but due to different rates of scheduling, it actually ended up passing Calcutta in the long run, as it ran for an additional year, closing during 1990. That made it the first Broadway production in history to run for more than 6,000 performances. Although it may have to settle for no. 6 all-time now, it can still take pride in knowing that it earned more Tonys than any other performance in the Top 15. Among those prizes were Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress (in a Musical) for Donna McKechnie and Best Performance by a Leading Actor (in a Musical) for Sammy Williams.

05) Les Misérables (6,680 performances)

Les Misérables is the first production festered on this list that never got to hold the record for longest-running Broadway production, as it could never catch up to a certain performance that began five years prior, during 1982 (we'll get to that later, of course). That said, the adaptation of Victor Hugo's lengthy novel did rather well for itself nonetheless, debuting during 1987 and continuing until three years into the new millennium. One thing it hasn't had similar luck with as the Oh! Calcutta! series: The reboot of the production during 2006 was much less successful, falling short of 500 showings, perhaps as a result of the thin gap between the closing of the first production and the launch of the second. That said, the Disney film version of the musical renewed interest and the third production is doing well at nearly 450 showings and counting.

04) The Lion King (7,241 performances)

Perhaps an indication of Disney's strength with the musical genre: The musicals it adapts into films do well at the box office (Les Misérables, $440 million) and the films it adapts into musicals do pretty well also, based on the streak that The Lion King is currently at. This is the first production on this list that is still in production, which makes it likely that it will beat the current no. 3 all-time record holder by the end of 2015, or perhaps early 2016. Although Tonys are the most well-known awards ceremony in theatre, drama kids also have other options, such as the Drama Desk Awards. The Lion King has the most Drama Desk Awards (eight) out of any play in the Top 20 of the longest-running record books.

03) Cats (7,493 performances)

It's funny that The Lion King wasn't the first musical to crack 7,000 performances, it wasn't even the first feline-themed musical to do so. Still, as we mentioned before, Lion King will probably have its revenge soon enough, merely a few hundred off of its competition, Cats, which closed down after 18 years of performances during 2000. At least during its run, Cats was able to grab the record for "longest-running" for at least a while before being overtaken by another Andrew Lloyd Webber production (spoiler alert). One thing seems to be clear: No one is eager to resurrect Cats anytime soon. Although several plays mentioned so far were brought back after just a few years, Cats has stayed silent on Broadway since 2000, although it was brought back as a touring show in London last year.

02) Chicago (7,645 performances)

Somewhat ironic to note that the second-longest running production in Broadway history is based entirely upon the theatre scene of another big city, Chicago. Some might have noticed that still-active The Lion King isn't too far from Chicago but this musical is still running smoothly. It only just passed Cats to take the no. 2 position. That said, it will be a good long while before Chicago can even dream about taking the no. 1 overall spot, as the current no. 1 is several thousand performances ahead and still running itself. There's one thing that Chicago can take pride in however: The original version of the musical ran on Broadway during 1975, which officially makes the current run the most successful reprisal in Broadway history.

01) Phantom of The Opera (11,319)

Theater geeks didn't need to read this list to know what was no. 1: The Phantom of The Opera has held the the record for years and has thus far been the only production in the history of the Great White Way to crack 8, 9, 10 and 11,000 showings. The mere fact that Phantom has such a stranglehold on the record has worked to its advantage, leading promoters to advertise it such and make it even more of a "must" for tourists visiting New York City. The show has become such a staple that every change of cast has potentially historic implications: Headlines were made during 2014 when Norm Lewis briefly assumed the role, becoming the first black Phantom in the history of the performance.

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