Bette Davis once said, “The only reason anyone goes to Broadway is because they can’t get work in the movies,” but make no doubt about it, Broadway is big business, and many of the highest-grossing Great White Way shows top myriad movies coming out of Hollywood these days.
(Consider the 2014 Liev Schreiber-Jean Tripplehorn bomb “A Perfect Man,” which took home $445. And no, no zeroes are missing. Compared to the Broadway show “This is Our Youth” with Michael Cera, which grossed $262,663 and was considered a disappointment, Davis might have been wrong, at least this once.)
Some Broadway shows rake in millions over the years, and in 2013, “The Lion King” became the biggest money maker of all time on Broadway, becoming the first show to reach a cumulative gross of $1 billion.
The Tony award-winning musical about a young African lion named Simba who embarks on a fight against evil in order to claim his rightful place among his pride hit that mark on Oct. 20, 2013, making the moving musical a hit for Disney both on stage and screen. (At the movies, “The Lion King” only recently relinquished its top Disney spot to “Frozen,” which also overtook Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time.”
But “The Lion King” isn’t alone in making a fortune on Broadway. Other top-grossing shows include:
The Phantom of the Opera
The longest-running show on Broadway, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical mystery “The Phantom of the Opera” opened Jan. 26, 1988, at the Majestic Theatre.
A story of love, jealousy, obsession and madness, “Phantom” is set around soprano Christine and the mysterious Phantom who teaches her to sing from his home in the dark catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House. He does so because he himself is severely disfigured, and unable to share his own sumptuous voice with the opera house audience. His presence, however, is known to many, although those who know of him consider him a mythical apparition. When he orders the opera house managers to give his beloved Christine the prima donna role in the latest opera, they ignore his wishes, which ultimately has devastating consequences for all involved.
A dark, romantic dreamscape of a show, “Phantom of the Opera” has so far grossed $990,012,534, luring audience thanks to lush music and an elaborate set that brings the Paris Opera House, it’s stunning chandelier and the catacombs beneath beautifully to life – at least until it all dramatically comes crashing down.
“Wicked,” a smart retelling of “The Wizard of Oz,” long before Dorothy Gale dropped down into Oz aboard her swirling farmhouse, opened Oct. 30, 2003, at the Gershwin Theatre, and was almost immediately considered a smash it.
The show has since grossed $895,870,415, well over the $3,017,000 the 1939 film earned its first year at the box office.
“Wicked” features music by Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell” and “Pippin”) as well as an elaborate set and costumes, but it’s the story – of college student Elphaba before life-changing events earn her the dubious title of the Wicked Witch of the West and her spoiled friend Glinda – that makes the fantasy-filled journey so special.
The story that is ultimately about friendship and the depths of love has also been popular on tour.
With the music of the Swedish pop group ABBA as its jubilant soundtrack, how can a show go wrong?
“Mamma Mia!” opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on Oct. 18, 2001, and has since grossed $599,101,422, just a hair below the $609,841,637 worldwide gross made by the 2008 movie starring Meryl Streep.
The story of a bride’s quest to uncover her father’s identity – a mission that ultimately brings three different men from her mother’s past back on the eve of her wedding – is woven amid ABBA’s greatest hits, making it a joy-filled show that celebrates love, the exuberant pop of the 1970s and dancing, which the show’s producers encourage.
“Mamma Mia!” – featuring hits including “The Winner Takes It All,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “SOS,” and “Take a Chance on Me” – is currently playing at the Broadhurst Theatre.
This jazzy Kander and Ebb musical seems to never go out of style. Packed with sex appeal, vaudevillian-style music and a star-studded cast, “Chicago” has grossed $513,437,966 – well over the $306,776,732 the 2002 movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere earned, and that movie musical was considered a success.
The show features Fosse-style choreography and costumes, along with an ironic storyline that takes on tabloid headlines as well as our lust for dirty laundry, which is something we’ve never really lost.
The show opened at the Ambassador Theatre on Nov. 14, 1996, and over the years has featured Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, Melanie Griffith, Usher and Ashley Simpson in key roles.
Author: Brenda Neugent