Revealed: The Most Popular Musicals of all Time

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  • Andrew Stuckey, TicketSource

Research from online ticket software company TicketSource has raised the curtain on the most talked about theatre productions to discover just how they have remained centre stage for so long.

During the 2017-18 theatre season, Broadway attendance was higher than the cumulative attendance for ALL of New York’s main sports teams (Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, Liberty, Giants, Jets, Devils and Nets).

This goes to show that musical theatre is still as popular as ever, with over a third (62%) of Broadway audiences attending at least two shows every season.

10 Productions with Longest Runs

Oklahoma! tops the list as the longest running show, debuting on Broadway in 1943, it is still being performed today in theatres across the world.

My Fair Lady comes in at a close second having been performed for a full 76 years (and counting). However, this musical got off to a seriously rocky start. On the opening night on Broadway in 1956, the leading lady was struck with such stage fright, that it almost caused the opening night to be cancelled.

  1. Oklahoma! - 76 Years

  2. My Fair Lady - 63 Years

  3. The Sound of Music - 57 Years

  4. Hello, Dolly! - 52 Years

  5. Fiddler on the Roof - 51 Years

  6. Cabaret - 50 Years

  7. Jesus Christ Superstar - 49 Years

  8. Grease - 48 Years

  9. The Rocky Horror Show - 46 Years

  10. Chicago - 44 Years

Most & Least Well-Travelled Productions

Theatre productions don’t just stick to their home-town. The success and popularity of these musicals can be measured by how far and wide they have travelled to bring their production to a global audience.

The research from Ticket Source revealed that the total distance travelled by popular musicals is over 2.8million miles and on average, each popular musical production will travel in excess of 156,000 miles.

Productions that have travelled the furthest in miles:

  1. The Rocky Horror Show - 374,945 miles

  2. Phantom of the Opera - 242,418 miles

  3. Mamma Mia! - 241,132 miles

  4. The Lion King - 149,240 miles

  5. We Will Rock You - 102,376 miles

  6. Rock of Ages - 95,221 miles

  7. Billy Elliot - 94,432 miles

  8. A Chorus Line - 88,263 miles

  9. Annie - 86,756 miles

  10. Hairspray - 85,285 miles

Whilst the above is true for the majority of musicals, it’s interesting to note that some of the most iconic musical productions have travelled very few miles, managing to complete their long runs in the same city, or even the same theatre.

Productions that have travelled the fewest miles:

  1. The Producers - 3,458 miles

  2. Les Miserables - 3,672 miles

  3. Wicked - 6,916 miles

  4. Oh Calcutta - 7,701 miles

  5. Chicago - 10,374 miles

The 6 Surprising Cities that Musicals Travel To

It isn’t just the US and UK that are fans of musicals. Forget Broadway and the West End, these are the top 6 unexpected cities that musicals have travelled to:

  1. Madrid (11 productions)

  2. Tokyo (8 productions)

  3. Buenos Aires (7 productions)

  4. Copenhagen (6 productions

  5. Seoul (5 productions)

  6. Helsinki (4 productions)

Top 5 UK Cities Searching for Musicals

Using Google Search trends, the research revealed which UK cities can’t get enough of musicals. Does this mean that Brentford is all singing and dancing?

  1. Brentford

  2. Brighton

  3. London

  4. Watford

  5. Croydon

Top US States Searching for Musicals

It looks like New Jersey is the top city for theatre-goers!

  1. New Jersey

  2. Connecticut

  3. Pennsylvania

  4. Massachusetts

  5. Utah

The Most Iconic Musical Theatre Productions of All Time

Using a unique scoring system comprising Google search data and Instagram mentions, the Ticket Source research reveals the musical productions that are most popular with audiences all over the world.

  1. Beauty and the Beast (5,863,073)

  2. Chicago (4,119,665)

  3. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1,881,325)

  4. Matilda (1,835,711)

  5. Miss Saigon (1,598,188)

  6. Hairspray (1,450,343)

  7. Grease (1,183,372)

  8. Cabaret (1,182,487)

  9. Aladdin (1,034,670)

  10. Mamma Mia! (1,000,406)


Beauty and the Beast tops the list, scoring over 5 million mentions, followed by family favourites Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Matilda, both with more than 1.8m mentions.

Looking at the data in more detail reveals that a fifth of these popular productions are family friendly (Matilda, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) which highlights the popularity of this production format.

UK vs US: Who Loves Theatre the Most?

According to the study, UK audiences love theatre the most. In 2018, theatre attendance grew to over 15 Million, whereas US audiences lagged behind at just 13 Million.

However, attendance doesn’t appear to translate into ticket revenue. The US theatre industry generated a whopping $7million more than the UK which can be attributed to ticket prices, which cost (on average) 89% more than in the UK.

UK vs US: Who’s got the Biggest Appetite for Musicals?

Looking at production types in more detail revealed that US audiences had a larger appetite for musical theatre (53%) in comparison to the UK, who were much more likely to enjoy plays (17%).