“Chicago the Musical” last week celebrated a milestone in the current production’s 15-year run by becoming Broadway’s fourth-longest running production. Moving ahead of “A Chorus Line” with the completion of the show’s 6,138th performance, “Chicago” also took over the mantle of the longest running American musical on Broadway, as the current top three longest-running Broadway shows (“Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” and “Les Miserables” in descending order) all originally premiered on London’s West End prior to taking their Broadway bows.
Despite running for 15 years, “Chicago” is still managing to pull in solid attendance numbers each week. For the week ending September 4, the production played in front of a total capacity of 71 percent.
In the notoriously hit or miss world of Broadway, the musical’s success can be attributed to several key elements.
First, the production enjoyed a boost from a 2002 film version, which grossed an impressive $300 million worldwide and won six Academy Awards including Best Picture. “Chicago” has also weathered the fickle tides of Broadway through its low overhead costs. In comparison with some of Broadway’s more extravagant productions, “Chicago’s” stripped down set and small cast allow for lower grosses to keep the show running.
In addition to low overhead, “Chicago” has also mastered the art of celebrity casting. In recent years, cast members have included Usher, Michael C. Hall, Rita Wilson, Brooke Shields and Melanie Griffith, and currently, the production stars former American Idol judge Kara Dioguardi. However, celebrities alone will not keep ticket sales strong for 15 years.
“Why has ‘Chicago’ become one of the longest running musicals of all time? Yes, celebrity ‘stunt’ casting helps. Yes, the movie helped. And yes, the size of the show and its respective low operating costs helped,” veteran Broadway producer Ken Davenport, whose latest production “Godspell” is set to begin performances this October, told TicketNews.
“But when you get down to it, shows run a long time for the same reason that books are still read year after year, and great paintings are still looked at year after year,” Davenport continued. “The story of ‘Chicago’ and its themes, conflicts and characters, still resonate with the public in the same way they did over a decade ago. And classics, and ‘Chicago’ is one now, stand the test of time.”
In addition to its compelling story, “Chicago” also comes from a particularly strong Broadway pedigree. The show was written by two Broadway musical legends – John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. The musical’s initial production, which ran from 1975-77, was also choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse, who created iconic choreography that has been recreated for the current running revival production.
While it certainly appears that “Chicago” will continue running on Broadway for the foreseeable future, there are several current productions that look poised to make a run for the title of longest running Broadway musical should “Chicago” eventually shut its doors.
Among the top contenders are the “Lion King,” which currently sits at number seven on the list, as well as “Mama Mia!” and the juggernaut “Wicked.” The two are currently numbers eleven and fourteen respectively.