Of the top 13 longest-running shows in Broadway history, six are still running now: The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago at the top of the list, with The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, Wicked and Jersey Boys further down the list, and seemingly bedded in forever.
Certainly The Lion King and Wicked are still regularly amongst the top grossing shows on Broadway every week — last week, across an unusual 9-performance week for some shows as a result of the Easter/Passover weekend, The Lion King took a whopping $2,633,531 to top the list, with Wicked just behind it with $2,358,372, also across nine performances.
But last night it was announced that Mamma Mia!, currently the 8th longest running musical in Broadway history, is to close on Broadway on September 5 after a 14 year run. When it closes it will have played 5,765 performances to over 7m people, and grossed over $600m during that time. (According to deadline.com, the show’s worldwide gross from 49 productions on every continent but Antarctica exceeds $2 billion.)
It’s a show that inspired a whole sub-genre of musicals that plundered back pop catalogues to create new book musicals — but none have been as successful as Mamma Mia!, or done with such good grace and humour or set to such an insistently memorable soundtrack. A few weeks before it opened in the West End, I ran into a key member of the original creative team — we were both wearing just towels at the time in a sauna in Luton — who warned me off seeing it: “You’ll hate it!”
But he was wrong (and he’s also very rich now, so presumably is happy that he was). When it transferred to New York, after runs in Toronto and San Francisco, I was there, too — just three weeks after 9/11. I remember going to the invited dress rehearsal, and feeling the collective release of an audience, traumatised by the recent horrific events in their own city, surrendering to the sunny, funny charms of this show.
In the years since, I’ve regularly re-visited the show in New York — partly to catch different Donna’s, including the sublime Dee Hoty (pictured left, now back on Broadway in Gigi that just opened this week) and Carolee Carmello, pictured centre above, possibly the best Donna I ever saw — and I was there, too, for the show’s spectacular 10th anniversary performance, when they blocked Broadway front of the theatre after the show to deliver a street encore!
I’ll be sad to see it leave Broadway — but on the other hand, I’m pleased that another Broadway house is being freed up for newer product.