While only about 25 to 30 percent of all Broadway shows recoup their investment and then turn a profit, when a production hits big, it can really hit big. Here’s a breakdown of the five most popular shows currently running on Broadway based on box-office grosses since the day they opened, as of May 19, 2013. If there are any trends to spot, all five are musicals, but the story lines vary from a young lion cub reclaiming his birthright to a disfigured composer exacting revenge to a witch campaigning for civil rights.
1. The Lion King
Gross to date: $958,612,447
Opened: Nov. 13, 1997
Disney’s enchanting animated film of jungle royalty was brought to the stage thanks to the dazzling imagination of director Julie Taymor. The entire animal kingdom comes to vivid life through innovative puppets, costumes, lighting and sets.
2. The Phantom of the Opera
Gross to date: $906,580,658
Opened: Jan. 26, 1988
Broadway’s longest-running show, this classic horror story is made into a romantic gothic mystery by the lush music of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Harold Prince’s ingenious direction brings the entire Paris Opera House onto the Majestic stage, right down to the crashing chandelier.
Gross to date: $737,154,566
Opened: Oct. 30, 2003
The Wicked Witch of the West is humanized in this beloved hit based on Gregory Maguire’s novel. The show is especially popular with young girls and their families as the tweens identify with Elphaba, the young witch who seeks only to do good in the land of Oz. The score is by Tony nominee and Oscar winner Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin).
4. Mamma Mia!
Gross to date: $539,321,931
Theater: Winter Garden, soon to transfer to the Broadhurst
Opened: Oct. 18, 2001
Employing the hits of supergroup ABBA, this favorite tells the story of a former pop singer reuniting with three former boyfriends on the eve of her daughter’s wedding. A smash hit around the world, this energetic love-fest turns audiences into dancing queens and super-troupers as they boogie in the aisles. In addition to the title song, the selections include “The Winner Takes It All,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “SOS,” and “Take a Chance on Me.”
Gross to date: $463,442,351
Opened: Nov. 14, 1996
Murder becomes a form of entertainment in this revival of the Fred Ebb-John Kander musical. Vaudeville acts depict the career of killer Roxie Hart who parlays shooting her lover into a career on stage. This production originated as a concert staging in the Encores series and was such a smash it transferred to a commercial run. Stars such as Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, James Naughton, Melanie Griffith, Tom Wopat, Usher and Ashley Simpson have strutted their stuff during the show’s long run.