Some of the shows currently on in London’s West End have been running for over 20 years and they continue to sell out performances. Daily. How? Well actually, it’s almost impossible to say. It’s not like there’s a mathematical formula for it and some of them have now been running for so long that they have become famous for being long running musicals and their immortality brings the punters in. They no longer have to depend on reviews and special offers on tickets to get bums on seats. But, by the same ticket, they have to be enjoyable and worthwhile in order to get through the initial run and to have people continually coming back for more.
Les Miserables has been running on the West End for around 28 years. Astonishingly, its first previews were greeted with anything less than love by the critics who seemed to assume it wouldn’t actually make it out of previews. However as Cameron Mackintosh, the producer, eloquently put it ‘the public voted with their feet’ and on the same day that the damming reviews were published, the show broke all records and sold 5000 tickets.
Personally, I think it’s the music that makes this show fly. The basic aesthetic and direction has also remained largely unchanged for 28 years so that must be a winner as well. The story is, inevitably, miserable but somehow you really root for these characters and their dead end situations. You cry, you may well laugh and if your stomach doesn’t somersault at the climax of ‘One Day More’ as the curtain goes down on Act 1 then you may well have been watching a different show to the rest of the auditorium.
Les Miserables’ main rival for longest running musical on the West End is The Phantom of the Opera which has been running for an impressive 27 years. Like Les Miserables it is based on a novel and like Les Miserables it has a strong male lead and a slightly soppier romantic male lead. However, for me, this is where the similarities end. The Phantom of the Opera is hopeful, it is optimistic and through the character of the phantom it is peppered with hints of actual magic. The story is a fairly basic love triangle, on an epic scale. It has large dance numbers, which Les Mis doesn’t have. It has big dresses, even bigger wigs and some very impressive high female singing.
If you want to go to the theatre and see a ‘show’ then I expect Phantom is more your kind of performance. Les Mis will tick your boxes if you want some emotional meat and some great tunes. Either way, there is a reason these two shows have become long running legends of the West End and this makes them must-sees of the West End. With this in mind, you can get an extra 5% off already reduced tickets to some top West End shows. There’s no excuse to not make it to these shows.