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Top 10 Broadway Shows of All Time

Top Ten lists tend to be subjective. What one person likes, the next may not. Some folks like musicals, others do not. So a list of the Top Ten Broadway Shows of all time may not add up to what everyone might agree upon.

With that in mind, here is a subjective list of the Top Ten Broadway Shows of All Time, in no particular order.

The Phantom of the Opera

This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical extravaganza has been playing on Broadway since 1986. The musical is an adaptation by Lloyd Webber of the classic Gaston Leroux story that has been made into several fine film versions. As the story revolves around the musical theater community of Paris, turning this story of tragic love into a musical was certainly no stretch. Michael Crawford originated the role of the Phantom and stayed for over 1300 performances, beginning in London in 1986. He went to Broadway with the show in 1988, and Los Angeles a year later. The love of the Phantom, Christine was originated by Sarah Brightman. Phantom is currently the longest running Broadway musical in history, with over 9000 performances. It might be interesting to note that in 2007 six high schools were involved in a pilot program to bring the show to the high school theater audience.

CATS

CATS is another Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation from an earlier work. The work in question is T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” CATS began as many Broadway Shows do on the London Stage, and starred Elaine Paige who sang the showstopper, Memory” (This song was recent done by internet sensation Susan Boyle in her acclaimed round two performance during “Brittan’s Got Talent”). CATS finished its Broadway run in 2000. With 7485 performances on Broadway, it was the longest running musical until 2006, when it was overtaken by Phantom. CATS is the second longest running Broadway Musical of all time.

West Side Story

This was a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” a tale of star crossed lovers with deep seated family hatreds. In the Broadway musical, Romeo and Juliet are replaced by Tony and Maria. Tony is white and a member of the Jets gang, while Maria is Puerto Rican, and the sister of a member of the Jets rivals, the Sharks. Songs included “Tonight”, “America” and “I feel Pretty” There was film version which starred Natalie Wood, and Richard Beymer as Maria and Tony. The film won the Academy Award for Best Film of 1961, however the musical lost the Tony award to The Music Man. West Side Story ran for 732 performances, which in the late 50’s into the 60’s was a reasonable run.

Deathtrap

This Ira Levin written play was the longest running Comedy-thriller to run on the Great White Way, with 1793 performances from 1978 to 1982. The story revolves around Sidney Breuhl, a fading playwright who decides to steal the brilliant play of one of his admirers, Clifford Anderson. Adding to the confusion and laughs is Breuhl’s long suffering wife, Myra. With plot twists galore, the ending is a delicious surprise. A successful film version was made in 1982 with Michael Caine as Bruehl, Christopher Reeve as Anderson, and Dyan Cannon as Myra.

The Producers

This Mel Brooks written and produced comedy reversed the trend of film versions coming after the play. The Producers was originally a 1968 film starring Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, and Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, an accountant who makes an off-hand comment that Bialystock would actually make more money if he intentionally produced a flop. The scheme was born. Bialystock with Bloom reluctantly in tow sets out to find the worst play and cast possible. They find “Springtime for Hitler”, written by a former Nazi playwright who thought the Third Reich should not have gone down in flames. Unfortunately, the actor who plays Hitler turns in such a campy performance that the intended flop turns into a rousing success. The play adds characters that were not in the original film, and makes more use of musical numbers as well. The play opened on Broadway in 2001, and won an unprecedented 12 Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical of the Year. It ran for 2502 performances.

Les Miserables

Based upon the Victor Hugo novel, the play colloquially known as Les Mis, or Les Miz, tells the story of Jean Valjean, who has spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and has escaped parole. He is pursued relentlessly by Javert, who sees law and order as simply black and white. The law is the law, not matter what the circumstances. The play ran on Broadway for 6680 performances from 1987 to 2003. It is the third longest running Broadway play. The song, “I dreamed a Dream was sung by Susan Boyle for her audition on “Brittan’s got Talent, and began her fame as an internet star.

Jesus Christ Superstar

This “Rock Opera” depicts the final week in the life of Jesus Christ, and shows the growing dissension between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. Based upon the Gospel of John, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Timothy Rice musical adds Twentieth Century sensibilities and more than a few anachronisms. Songs such as “I don’t know how to Love Him”, and the title song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” got quite a bit of airplay in the 70’s and 80’s. A film version directed by Norman Jewison was released in 1973. The play opened on Broadway in 1971 and stayed for 18 months. The play was considered controversial for its depiction of Judas as a somewhat of a tragic figure, and was decried as irreligious in some areas. Some countries even banned it from being performed.

1776

This musical tells the story of the Continental Congress from the period of May 8, 1776 through July 4, 1776. Historically inaccurate, the play pits John Adams of Massachusetts against John Dickinson of Pennsylvania who opposes the idea of independence from Great Brittan. When the time comes to write the Declaration, Adams himself balks, stating that “if I’m the one to do it, they’ll run their quill pens through it, I’m obnoxious and disliked”. In reality Adams may have thought of himself in those terms but was a respected member of Congress. The play ran on Broadway from 1969 to 1972, when Warner Brothers released a film version which starred William Daniels as Adams, and Howard DaSilva as Ben Franklin, reprising their roles from the Broadway play. In fact many performers from the play reprised their roles for the film. The play is noteworthy for the fact that it includes the longest interval in a musical without a note of music being played, or sung. Twenty minutes elapses between “The Lees of Old Virginia” and the next song, “But Mr. Adams. The play ran on Broadway for 1217 performances.

The King and I

This is one of the many musical plays by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to run on Broadway. Based on the book, Anna and the King of Siam, the story revolves around the memoirs of Anna Leowens, a British schoolteacher who taught the children of Siamese King Mongkut in the early 1860’s. The show opened on Broadway in 1951, and ran for 1246 performances. It won the Tony Award for best musical among other awards. Yul Brynner originated the role of the King, and went on to reprise the role in the 1956 film version. The play had originally been written for Gertrude Lawrence, who sang the role from roughly half its Broadway run. Sadly Lawrence was dying of undiagnosed liver cancer, and was replaced permanently by understudy Constance Carpenter after her death, for the approximately 600 performances left of the run. Debra Kerr played Anna in the Academy Award winning film version.

The Lion King

Based upon the 1994 Disney animated film, The Lion King Features Music by Elton John, (who scored the movie) and lyrics by Tim Rice. Rice once partnered with Andrew Lloyd Webber for many successful musicals. The Broadway play of The Lion King began its run in 1997, and continues to this day. It is currently considered the ninth longest running Broadway play of all time. The story follows the animated film fairly closely, with some added scenes and numbers. The Lion King won the 1997 Tony for best musical.

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