The Industry Sector

“The box office figures are a testament to the creative strength of London theatre and cements the city’s status as the world’s theatre capital. The industry has many reasons to celebrate but must remain cautious as we look ahead to the rest of 2018. It is heartening to have seen growth in audiences for both plays and musicals, however, the year is a tale of two halves with the industry operating in a tougher climate in the final two quarters.” Kenny Wax, President of the Society of London Theatre

A successful show can see vast returns but the key of course is to identify which shows will be hits and which will be flops. It is this area that Shaftesbury Avenue Ltd believes it has a great edge over the individual investor.

The following table from data analysts Statista shows another interesting element:



In other words, while London theatre is booming, it is musicals which take up the greatest proportion of audience by a long measure.


As the UK Theatre Sales Data Report for 2016 noted:


“There was an increase of over £32 million in the annual income from musicals. In 2016, 39p in every £1 taken at the box office was for a musical. Overall the number of performances of musicals grew by 23%, ticket sales increased by 16% and box office income grew by 21%. The average price paid for a musical ticket rose by 5% to £32.54.”


The share of revenues from London stage productions in 2016 was as follows:

And as the history of London’s most successful musicals has showed, once the production team hit on a successful musical, it can run and run. Here are the top 20 musicals of all time on the London stage:


  1. Les Misérables, 1985 – still running, over 13,341 performances

  2. The Phantom Of The Opera, 1986 – still running, over 13,008 performances

  3. Blood Brothers, 1988 (closed, 10,013 performances)

  4. Cats, 1981 (closed, 8,949 performances)

  5. Mamma Mia!, 1999 - still running, over 7,871 performances

  6. Disney’s The Lion King, 1999 – still running, over 7,634 performances

  7. Starlight Express, 1984 (closed, 7,406 performances)

  8. Chicago, 1997 revival (closed, 6,187 performances)

  9. Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, 1989 (closed, 5,140 performances)

  10. Wicked, 2006 – still running, over 4,746 performances

  11. We Will Rock You, 2002 – (closed, 4,659 performances)

  12. Billy Elliot The Musical, 2005 – (closed, 4,566 performances)

  13. Miss Saigon, 1989 (original 1989 production / closed - 4,264 performances)

  14. Jersey Boys, 2008 (closed, 3,787 performances)

  15. Thriller Live, 2009 – still running, over 3,745 performances

  16. Jesus Christ Superstar, 1972 (original 1972 production / closed, 3,357 performances)

  17. Me And My Girl, 1985 (1985 revival / closed – 3,303 performances)

  18. Evita, 1978 (original 1978 production / closed – 2,900 performances)

  19. Oliver!, 1960 (original 1960 production / closed – 2,618 performances)

  20. Matilda The Musical, 2011 – still running, over 2,601 performances


[Information supplied to Society of London Theatre, correct as of 8 January 2018.]


Just to give some measure of the success of these productions, The Phantom of the Opera grossed $5.6 billion worldwide, more than any film or television show in history.


But the success of musicals on London’s West End in recent years is not all about the superstars. Increasingly, as consumers demonstrate their desire to see more musicals, the spread of opportunity in scale has developed. Whereas a major musical such as The Lion King can cost upwards of £15 million to stage, there are plenty of examples of successful musicals costing between £500,000 and £4,000,000 which go on to deliver returns on investment within 12 months.


 Take Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which cost £2.5 million to produce on Broadway and went on to gross over £200 million, winning four Tony Awards along the way. Or the new Young Frankenstein from Mel Brooks on London’s West End, which cost £2.5 million to stage in 2017 and is already in profit.


The key element to the surging performance of musicals on the London stage is the continued growth in consumer support, at all levels.


As the Arts Council England Analysis of Theatre in England 2016 showed, 86% of finance “at work in the theatre industry” stems from the private sector. In other words, this is a truly entrepreneurial and innovative industry, not dependent in any real sense on public sector funding but in fact driven by the same commercial imperatives and rewards as any other successful private sector business.