Broadway Hits That Were Even BIGGER Hits in London
Last week, I wrote a piece on Broadway musicals that were hits in the United States, but that just didn’t have the staying power in London. This week, I thought I would look at the musicals that were hits on Broadway, but ran even longer on the West End. Obviously, musicals like 1776 and Fiorello! were going to have a limited appeal with British audiences due to their inherently American themes, but just what shows did outrun their American productions when they crossed the ocean?
Broadway: 581 performances
London: 685 performances
Perhaps it was the Scottish setting and old world charm of Brigadoon that made this Lerner and Loewe classic a slightly bigger hit in London (where it ran 685 performances) than it was in America (where it ran 581 performances)? Besting the New York production by just over 100 performances, Londoners embraced this folk-meets-fairy tale where two American hunters stumble upon a village in the Scottish highlands, a hamlet that appears for one day every hundred years.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Broadway: 711 performances
London: 3,358 performances
Local boys make good! British born Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created one of the most game-changing musicals to employ contemporary musical sounds and styles in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Starting out as a concept album, musically telling the last days of the Messiah, Jesus Christ Superstar got its stage premiere in New York where it opened to mixed reviews and ran a solid 711 performances. In London, however, the musical was a smash it, running 3,358 performances. Webber is quoted as having not been thrilled with the American production, calling its opening night “a travesty.”
Broadway: 583 performances
London: 648 performances
Taking the music of Russian Romantic composer Alexander Borodin, and adapting it for the Broadway stage with lyrics, Robert Wright and George Forrest fashioned a mesmerizing score for the Broadway musical Kismet (1953). Book writers Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, meanwhile, constructed a book out Edward Knowblock’s 1911 play that told a magical and mysterious tale set in the bazaars and marketplaces of Baghdad a la The Arabian Nights. Kismet won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran 583 performances, then it went to London in 1955 where it lasted for 648 performances. Audiences on both sides of the pond found such songs as “Stranger in Paradise,” “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” “Fate” and “And This Is My Beloved” intoxicating.
Broadway: 257 performances
London: 334 performances
Little Me is a uniquely fun show that never seems to get the amount of love that it deserves. The Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh score is certainly lively and one song, “I’ve Got Your Number,” has had its share of recordings. The clever book by Neil Simon is inspired by the novel Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television/Belle Poitrine by Patrick Dennis. The tale of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has great adventures seeking out fame and fortune in order to be worthy of the boy she loves from the right side. Little Me ran for a modest 257 performances on Broadway, but fared slightly better in London running 334 performances.
Broadway: 557 performances
London: 851 performances
The taste for operetta began to die in America around the 1950s, but that does not mean that it wasn’t once a revered art in the annals of musical theatre. Once of the most beloved of operettas is Rose-Marie which ran for 557 performances on Broadway in 1924. The score, by Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II included a big hit in the oft-recorded “Indian Love Call” and it atmospheric setting in the Canadian mountains (complete with singing Mounties) was the ideal choice for the operetta formula. Rose-Marie was an even bigger hit in London the following year where it ran an astonishing 851 performances, which, for its day, was a rare occurrence.
The Sound of Music
Broadway: 1,443 performances
London: 2,385 performances
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 The Sound of Music, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse has charmed audiences the world over, but really became revered through the Academy Award-winning 1965 film version. It was no slouch in its original Broadway run, however, running a successful 1,443 performances. The story of a young postulant who sent to be a governess for the seven children of a widowed military captain introduced a bevy showtune standards including “Edelweiss,” “Climb Every Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Do-Re-Mi” and the title song. The Sound of Music went to the West End in 1961 where it ran 2,385 performances, surpassing the Broadway run by 942 performances.
West Side Story
Broadway: 734 performances
London: 1,039 performances
Harold Prince has often said that he closed the Broadway production of West Side Story too soon, shuttering the now iconic piece after 734 performances. Surely he did not foresee the impact that 1957 musical would have over the long term, nor could he have predicted the enormous success of the Academy Award-winning 1961 film version. We often assume that the story of warring gangs in New York City’s upper west side and the star-crossed romance that materializes between the WASP Tony and the Puerto Rican Maria made for a long-running hit when it first arrived on Broadway. Certainly the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim score and the indelible choreography of Jerome Robbins factor into our assumptions. West Side Story may have been groundbreaking, but its Broadway run was neither pathetic nor was it earth-shattering. It was respectable. Certainly it caught on, especially after its tour that performed a return engagement on Broadway in 1960 that lasted an additional 249 performances. In London of 1958, West Side Story held on even longer, to the tune of 1,039 performances.