The Most Influential Broadway Shows of All Time

New York City is the home of the Theater District, and the heart of this district is Broadway. Broadway includes 40 different professional theaters that have at least 500 seats for theatergoers to attend performances. The majority of the shows performed in Broadway theaters are musicals. Many of these shows have become so popular that they are a part of America's pop culture. These influential musicals have set the stage for Broadway's success and had an impact on lives around the world.


Cats opened at London's New London Theatre in 1981. After solid success in the West End, Cats crossed the pond and opened on Broadway in 1982. Andrew Lloyd Webber composed this musical, and it was based on poems composed by T.S. Eliot. Cats surprised even the most vocal critics and went on to become the longest-running show on Broadway between 1987 and 2006. The song "Memory" became an iconic show tune, and it has been recorded in many different languages.

A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line is the musical story of dancers auditioning for positions in a new musical. Marvin Hamlisch composed the score of A Chorus Line, and Edward Kleban wrote the lyrics. A Chorus Line was extremely successful on Broadway, attaining the title of longest-running show in September of 1983. A Chorus Line won a Pulitzer Prize and nine Tony Awards during its tenure on Broadway. Although this musical was unconventional, with a lack of scenery, costumes, setting, or even a specific star, it succeeded in grabbing the attention of anyone who saw it.


Broadway was forever changed after the debut of Hair in April of 1968. This rock musical pushed the boundaries in new and startling ways with profanity, sexuality, nudity, and anti-war messages. Hair ran on Broadway for 1,750 performances. Hair receives credit as the catalyst for Broadway diversification, and a wide variety of musicals later sailed through the door that Hair opened. Years later, in 2009, a revival of Hair returned to Broadway. This rendition won a Tony Award.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables is a musical based on the novel written by Victor Hugo. Les Miserables debuted in Paris in 1980, and it opened in London's Barbican Theatre in 1985. Les Mis opened on Broadway in 1987, and it ran through May of 2003. Although initial reviews were not positive, people bought tickets in record numbers. This musical receives accolades as one of the top ten longest-running Broadway shows ever. Les Miserables won eight Tony Awards.

The Lion King

Disney's The Lion King may have been created for children, but the Broadway rendition is far more inclusive. The Lion King opened on Broadway in November 1997. With a culturally diverse musical score, The Lion King presents the story of Simba and his tumultuous ascent to the throne. Theatergoers of all ages have enjoyed this musical rendition of the Disney story, and it continues to run on Broadway.

The Phantom of the Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is based on the French novel written by Gaston Leroux. The Phantom of the Opera opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in 1986, and it premiered on Broadway in 1988. Phantom achieved the title of the longest-running Broadway show, and it celebrated an enviable 10,000th Broadway performance in February 2012. The theatrical design, choreography, and costumes have been instrumental in the wild success of The Phantom of the Opera.

The Producers

Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan were the masterminds behind The Producers. This adaptation of a 1968 film was a huge gamble, but Brooks and Meehan succeeded with their unorthodox and humorous musical. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane were the principal stars of The Producers, and they helped the musical become popular. The Producers debuted on Broadway in 2001, and it went on to win 12 Tony Awards during its 2,502 performances.

West Side Story

The creative minds behind West Side Story borrowed heavily from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Leonard Bernstein composed the score for this musical, in which star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony find themselves caught between respective gangs that are rivals in New York City. Violence breaks out, which dooms the romance. West Side Story opened on Broadway in September 1957 to mixed reviews. Racial conflicts present in the musical's plot were off-putting for some. Nevertheless, West Side Story went on to win two Tony Awards during its 732 performances. The musical rendition of West Side Story served as the inspiration for a film released in 1961.

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