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Greatest Musicals of the Last Two Decades

9 min read

Connect Comfort and Uplift

9 min read


Greatest Musicals of the Last Two Decades – Musical theatre never fails to draw in the crowds. Many West End shows sell out quickly and there have been many shows over the last twenty years we will never forget.

To stand out from the crowd, a show needs to offer something unique, fun, and memorable. You may know all the lyrics to all the songs or have nailed the choreography or it could be a show which always has you reaching for the tissues.


Greatest Musicals of the Last Two Decades

Whatever the reason, there are plenty of amazing musicals which stay in our minds as true classics and here are our standout favourites from the last two decades.



The Book of Mormon (2011)

Taking irreverence to a new level The Book of Mormon has audiences laughing from beginning to end. It’s impossible not to laugh as the team that made South Park famous, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, combine with the genius of Robert Lopez to have more than a little laugh at the expense of the Mormon religion. Theatres are still packed out for every viewing and once you see it, you’ll understand why.



Hamilton (2015)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton took over the world, not just the world of theatre, in ways we could never have imagined. A show for the ages, Hamilton has all the facets of traditional musical theatre and blends them with the experimental nature of hip-hop for results in awe-inspired audiences night after night. America’s past is told by the present in a clever and unexpected way.



Six (2017)

Who says British history can’t be fun? Six takes the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives and transforms them into an all-singing, all-dancing stage show to remember. Tutor Queens become unforgettable pop starlets as we race through their stories with a song for every occasion. 500 years of history meet 21st-century girl power in a way that delights every audience who attends. We can’t imagine this show will stop running any time soon.



The Scottsboro Boys (2010)

A surprising success considering the backstory, The Scottsboro Boys tells the story of nine boys wrongly convicted of rape in 1931. Based on a true story, The Scottsboro Boys takes music to a world where you would never imagine it could work and blows it out of the water. Using the framework of a minstrel show to create a musical critique, the musical shines a light on a damning part of American history and allows the voices of persecuted African Americans to shine.



Hairspray the Musical (2012)

John Waters classic film Hairspray lends itself perfectly to the musical stage. Cheesy and heart-warming, every new cast of Hairspray brings something exciting and fresh to the show. Songs from Hairspray have found themselves in the mainstream which is always a sign of the popularity of the show. Hairspray isn’t currently running in London, having finished in September, but the show brought together popular stars including Les Dennis and Michael Ball.



Once (2011)

Based on a film of the same name and featuring the songs of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Once attracted a huge amount of critical acclaim, including Grammys and Olivier Awards. The show gained attention for its unusual and innovative staging and the unique nature of the folk music that makes up the score. The show is still touring and has starred Ronan Keating, amongst others, in the lead role.



Fun Home (2013)

Another unusual topic for a musical, Fun Home is in equal parts bitter and sweet. It is based upon Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir and combines the tragedy with the comedy with intelligence and ease. Alison takes to the stage and three different ages and has become a cult classic in the LGBTQ+ community.



Kinky Boots (2012)

Another stage show adapted from an unforgettable film; audiences cannot get enough of Kinky Boots. The music and lyrics of Cyndi Lauper bring to life the characters we know and love from the classic film and since its arrival on the West End in 2015, Kinky Boots has had audiences up on their feet. The show won three Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical and its brassy yet sentimental feel keeps fans coming back for more. Kinky Boots is coming to the Grand in April 2022 and we’re sure you will enjoy the show whether it’s your first or fifth chance to see it.



Billy Elliot (2005)

Working-class heart meets undeniable dancing talent, the combination of mining and ballet doesn’t sound like it will work – but it does. Billy Elliot is the last kid you’d ever imagine trying to get into the Royal Ballet School but as soon as it becomes his dream everyone in the theatre is rooting for him. The backdrop of northern England during the 1984/5 miner’s strike is so unusual but it works, in no small part thanks to Elton John’s amazing score. Billy Elliot isn’t currently touring but will be brought to the stage in Korea this year.



Matilda (2010)

Taking a beloved children’s book which has already been made into a hugely popular film and trying to take it to the stage is no mean feat. It is clear to see they nailed it with Matilda. Matilda the musical was adapted for the stage by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Australian comic Tim Minchin. The show picked up seven Olivier Awards in 2013 and it has played in countries around the world and fascinated audiences from nation to nation. The amazing score brings to life already beloved characters in a new and fascinating way. Every musical-lover needs to see this show.

The last twenty years have been packed with musical shows which both stand the test of time and continue to innovate. Each new show brings something exciting and unexpected to the table and ensures audiences can help but come back for more and seek out the next big hit. Whether 2001 or 2021 we’re lucky to have a wealth of fantastic musical shows to choose from.


Highest Grossing Musicals Worldwide

The following is a list of the top 10 highest-grossing musical theatre franchises worldwide based on limited available data. The following figures include revenue grossed from ticket sales in theatres across the world.

[Note that the following gross figures are nominal, not adjusted for inflation, and do not take into account rising ticket prices. As such, the list gives far more weight to more recent musicals.]

The Lion King sits at the top, with a gross of $8.2 billion worldwide.


Rank, Musical Debut year, Gross revenue (US$)
No.1 The Lion King 1997 – $8,251,556,700
No.2 The Phantom of the Opera 1986 – $6,060,000,000
No.3 Mamma Mia! 1999 – $4,000,000,000
No.4 Cats 1981 – $3,565,624,091
No.5 Wicked 2003 – $3,530,000,000
No.6 Les Misérables 1980 – $2,708,535,588
No.7 Miss Saigon 1989 – $1,636,259,976
No.8 Jersey Boys 2004 – $1,644,848,098
No.9 Beauty and the Beast 1993 – $1,600,000,000
No.10 Starlight Express 1984 – $1,200,000,000


Highest-Grossing Musical Films

The following gross figures are nominal, not adjusted for inflation, and do not take into account rising ticket prices, or differences in ticket prices between different countries. When adjusted for inflation, the highest-grossing musical films are;

The Sound of Music, with an inflation-adjusted worldwide gross of $2.5 billion (as of 2019)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with an inflation-adjusted worldwide gross of $1.9 billion (as of 2019)

The top six films are among the highest-grossing films of all time.


Rank, Film year, Worldwide gross (US$)
No.1 The Lion King – 2019 $1,656,943,394
No.2 Frozen II 2019 – $1,450,026,933
No.3 Frozen 2013 – $1,290,000,000
No.4 Beauty and the Beast 2017 – $1,263,521,126
No.5 Aladdin 2019 – $1,050,693,953
No.6 The Lion King 1994 – $968,483,777
No.7 The Jungle Book 2016 – $966,550,600
No.8 Bohemian Rhapsody 2018 – $903,655,259
No.9 Moana 2016 – $643,331,111
No.10 Sing 2016 – $634,151,679


Longest-running Musicals

The following is a list of musical theatre productions that have exceeded 2,500 performances in Broadway or West End theatres.


No.1 Les Misérables – 1985 London, 1987 Broadway, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil (English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer) (>14,000 in London (the longest-running West End musical in history), 6,680 on Broadway) (1987 Tony Award winner; nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won eight)
No.2 The Phantom of the Opera – 1986 London, 1988 Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe (>13,800 in London; >13,300 on Broadway) (the longest-running musical in Broadway history since surpassing Cats; 1988 Tony Award winner)
No.3 Blood Brothers – 1983 London, 1993 Broadway, Willy Russell (10,013 in London, 1988 revival; 839 on Broadway) (1983 Olivier Award winner; longest-running musical revival in history)
No.4 Chicago – 1996 Revival, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb (>9,600 on Broadway; 6,187 in London) (longest-running American musical in both West End and Broadway history, surpassing A Chorus Line in 2011, and the longest-running revival in Broadway history)
No.5 The Lion King – 1997 Broadway, 1999 London, Elton John, l Tim Rice, b Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi (>9,300 on Broadway; >8,400 in London) (1998 Tony Award winner)
No.6 Cats – 1981 London, 1982 Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber, T. S. Eliot, Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn (“Memory”) (8,949 in London; 7,485 on Broadway) (1983 Tony Award winner, the longest-running work of musical theatre (other than The Fantasticks), until beaten by Les Misérables)
No.7 Mamma Mia! – 1999 London, 2001 Broadway Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, Catherine Johnson (>8,700 in London; 5,773 on Broadway)
No.8 Starlight Express – 1984 London, 1987 Broadway, 1988 Bochum, Germany, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe (with later revisions by Don Black and David Yazbek; through-composed; staged with the cast entirely on skates) (7,406 in London; >10,000 in Germany)
No.9 Wicked – 2003 Broadway, 2006 London, Stephen Schwartz, Winnie Holzman (>6,800 on Broadway; >5,500 in London)
No.10 Black and White Minstrels – 1960 George Mitchell (this minstrel show (a revue) was in The Guinness Book of Records as the stage show seen by the largest number of people and had international fame) (6,477 in London, the longest-running work of musical theatre (other than The Fantasticks), until beaten by Cats)


What do you think should have made the lists?

At The Grand, we’re proud to put on a host of top musical shows every year.

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