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Abroad to Broadway: 5 Broadway Musicals That Originated on the West End

Category Broadway

|by Marshall W. Mabry IV |

Did you know that these hit shows didn’t start on Broadway?

Before a new musical comes to Broadway, it is more likely than not that it has already been seen by audiences in another city to ensure that it is in its best possible form by the time it reaches the Great White Way. These days, most shows head to Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Seattle or Connecticut for their pre-Broadway tryout, but that wasn’t always the case. With next season’s Tina: The Tina Turner Musical coming in fresh from the West End, let’s look back at five shows that transferred from London to Broadway.

‘Miss Saigon’ opened in London in 1989 (Photo: ‘Miss Saigon’)

‘Miss Saigon’ opened in London in 1989 (Photo: ‘Miss Saigon’)

The Phantom of the Opera
Broadway’s longest running show happens to be a West End transfer. The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway January 26, 1988 with its leads from the West End. The Phantom of the Opera was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber after seeing another west end production of a musical based on the same novel. The Production starred Webber’s then-wife and muse for the show, Sara Brightman, along with Michael Crawford and Steve Barton.

Les Miserables
Produced by Cameron Mackintosh (who produced three of the shows on this list), the first production of Les Miserables was done in French. Mackintosh produced a production which then transferred to the West End in 1985. It played there until its 1986 pre-Broadway tryout at the Kennedy Center in D.C., before it opened on Broadway in March of 1987. Les Miserables opened with The Phantom of the Opera’s first phantom, Colm Wilkinson, in the role of Valjean. (He was also the Phantom in the first workshop seen by an audience.)

Before the revolting children of Matilda hit the Broadway stage in 2013, the show opened on the West End in 2011. Like most comedies that start in London, Matilda met its challenges with American audiences that didn’t get the humor of the UK version. But Matilda proved to be more of a blockbuster than anyone had expected in the West End, and set a record for most Olivier Awards (the UK equivalent of a Tony) won by a musical, which was just recently tied by Hamilton. Matilda then transferred to Broadway and won 5 Tonys, including Best Book of a Musical.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was an unprecedented success on the West End. Based on the 1964 novel of the same name, the musical ran for three years on the West End. They closed January 2017 and moved to Broadway in three months for an April 2017 opening. One of the largest changes from London to Broadway was that most of the kids’ roles were cut. Initially Violet, Augustus, Mike and Veruca were all played by children, but on Broadway the roles were played by adults.

Miss Saigon
Written by the same duo that wrote Les Miserables, Miss Saigon premiered in the west end in 1988. Starring a then-unknown Lea Salonga, the show shattered West End records. It ran from September 1989 through October 1999 before moving to Broadway in 1999. Saigon earned Salonga both Olivier and Tony awards for Best Lead Actress in a musical. Fun fact: It’s 2014-2018 revival also transferred from the West End to Broadway.

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in April 2019.


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