Did you know that the West End has more than 15 million visitors each year? And there is a good reason for this! 

There is nothing more magical than seeing a story or musical brought to life on stage as you immerse yourself in the action. And over the years, there have been some unbelievably successful shows playing all across London. 

But have you ever wondered which West End show is the most successful? 

We bet you have. 

Well, of course, the answer to this question can be a little contentious and could arguably be down to your own personal opinion. But, for the sake of this article, we’re going to stick to the facts and figures and see if we can’t narrow it down a little more. 

So, if you’re planning your next trip to the theatre and you’re wondering what to watch, let this guide influence your decision. 

Here’s what we know. 


What makes a successful West End show? 

Before we start juggling numbers, let’s first look at what it is that we believe makes a West End show successful. Because with the amount of work that goes into every performance, no matter how big or small, we could argue that every performance is a success in its own right. 

However, for the purpose of this article, we are going to consider the following factors. The number of tickets sold and the amount grossed by the box office are going to be huge driving factors, of course. 

Longevity is also another important factor. After all, it speaks volumes about a show if today’s viewers are just as interested in a story from decades ago, as they were when it first started showing in theatres. 

But the theatre is so much more than just money, seats and number of performances. A successful show should also create a connection between the cast and the audience. It should transport viewers on a story, evoking emotion, charm and total enchantment. 

The cast must wholly embody their characters and bring them to life as they perform to soaring scores and, in the case of musicals, sing their hearts out. Music can also be a huge influencing factor on the success of a show. 

So as you can see, there are a lot of elements to take into consideration when judging the success of a show. But ultimately, it is about delighting the audience and always leaving them wanting more. 

Keeping all this in mind, let’s now dive into some of the most impressive shows to ever grace the stages of London theatres. 


The longest-running West End show 

Let’s start by looking at the West End’s longest-running show, The Mousetrap. The show is a murder mystery play written by Agatha Christie, which premiered in London on 25th November 1952 after a whistle-stop tour around some of the UK’s other major cities. 

By May 1983, The Mousetrap had already grossed over £10 million in sales and in 1985, after the 1,998th performance, it was crowned the longest-running straight play in the history of British theatre. 

The show has been running on and off since the 1950s, and to date, there have been more than 28,000 performances. The show is currently still running at the St. Martin’s Theatre, and tickets are still available. 


The longest-running West End musical 

Now, while The Mousetrap might be the longest-running play, it is not a musical, an art form which many dedicated theatre-goers love. So it would be remiss of us not to also look at the longest-running musical in the West End as well. 

The longest-running musical is Les Misérables which arrived in London in October 1985, having debuted in Paris some five years before. 

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo’s novel and set in early 19th-century France, the show has been running in London ever since it initially sold out its three-month engagement at the Barbican Theatre. 

With over 14,000 performances, this is the longest-running West End musical and second longest-running musical in the world after the Broadway musical, The Fantasticks. The show is currently playing at the Sondheim Theatre. 


The highest-grossing West End show 

In 2014, the Lion King roared its way into the history books as it was crowned the biggest-ever box office earner. Since its arrival in London in 1999, the show has made more money at the box office than any other production, securing over £30 million in revenue for the Lyceum Theatre per year. 

As of 2014, it had made more than £3.8 billion in ticket sales alone, a number which will be far higher now, and the show is still running! You can still buy tickets to see this incredible production, made up of over 50 cast members and 232 puppets. 


The most popular song from a West End musical 

As we said, music is a huge part of the success of a show, and if you’re a musical fan, you’ll know how hard it is to shake some of those show tunes from your brain. 

While lots of songs from musicals are hugely popular, with hits like ‘Let it go’ from Frozen and ‘We don’t talk about Bruno’ from Encanto making their way into the UK’s official charts, some songs will stand the test of time. 

Data from downloads and streaming make it much easier to see which songs are most popular, and in the case of West End musicals, ‘Defying gravity’ from Wicked has proven to be the most popular show tunes on Spotify, making its way onto many a playlist. 

But it’s not just the music that makes it great; Wicked is firmly in the top 10 most successful West End musicals, as it has won 90 international awards over the years. It is currently playing at Apollo Victoria Theatre. 


The people’s vote 

So far we’ve looked at the figures, but it’s also a good idea to look at opinion as this will determine the success of a show too. A survey was conducted into theatre-goer’s favourite shows, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was voted the best show of all time. 

This is the West End’s third-longest running show with over 12,000 performances, and more than 25% of those polled believe it is an absolute showstopper. 

This was followed closely by Les Miserables, The Lion King, Mamma Mia! and Cats. 


So, what is the most successful West End show of all time? 

Based on the figures, it’s clear to see that The Mousetrap, Les Miserables and the Lion King are all firmly up there as the most successful West End shows of all time. 

However, the theatre is a very personal experience, and there are so many wonderful shows out there for you to see. So we recommend any one of the shows mentioned above, as well as the hundreds of other performances that are sure to leave you smiling. 


Blog: S.C.     Photo: LTR