Ahh, the bright lights of London’s glittering West End. A place where dreams are dreamed on roads paved with yellow brick.

For some, a trip “up west” may mean a saunter round Selfridges, a look in Liberty, a panic-buy at Primark and a piercing at Claire’s (nee Accessories).

But for others, the West End is simply the home of theatreland. And at the heart of theatreland is the West End musical.

With many of us forced to reframe lighting and heating as luxury items, it would be naïve to think that West End musicals are currently breaking box office records. But the latest data available, from 2022, shows things might be less hellish than you imagined.

Last year, curtains went up nearly 20,000 times on shows seen by 16.4 million of us. That’s over a million more bums on seats (7.1%) than in the ‘old normal’ of 2019, amassing a revenue of just under £900 million (before adjustments for inflation).

Whether seeing a West End musical is something on your to-do list or your bucket list, choosing what to see can be tough. When top seats for a family of four can set you back a grand, you want to be sure of seeing the best musical to get the requisite entertainment bang for your hard-earned buck.

The problem with ‘best’ is its subjectivity. Those 16.4 million people will have 16.3 million opinions. Google “Best West End Musicals” and you get 23.6 million hits. Many will be Top Tens. These broadly fit into four categories:

"Just Believe Me"

The opinions of some theatre publication or self-proclaimed expert.

"Just Believe Them"

The results of surveys of theatregoers. These range from smaller companies asking a selection of their own customers, to a question included on a national Gov.uk survey and a Radio 2 audience poll.

"Just The Facts"

The most objective data, like box office takings, length of run, number of awards. You can even find number of google searches or Twitter mentions.

"Just Buy"

When reading a list of Best West End Musicals on a website called something like WeEarnMoreCommisssionOnParticularShowsdotcom, it would be naïve to think they have placed, say Pretty Woman at the top of the list purely for reasons of quality.

All have their strengths. All can be helpful. But wouldn’t it be good if a list combined opinions and public votes and box office and awards and social chatter and this week’s commission target? (Maybe strike that last one.)

We thought so. So that’s what we created.

To find the definitive list of the 'Best West End Musicals', we took the results from twenty-five of these Top Tens, spread across all four groups. We gave ten points to the show in first place, down to one point for coming tenth. Not all lists contained ten shows, so we always started with maximum points and then counted down. For example, a Top Three awarded a ten, a nine, and an eight.

Showing clear commonality across the board, our Top Five took two-thirds of the total points available. To widen the choice, we extended our list to include the fifteen highest-scoring musicals. At the time of writing, four of these don’t currently have a West End home, but two are on tour, and one is rumoured to be returning very soon.

Between them, the original productions have amassed nearly one hundred Tonys and Oliviers. The list also covers an interesting spread of the old and the new, with five shows that opened before 1990 and six that opened after 2010.

Surprisingly, musicals that opened in the 2000s seem to have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps they are too old for recent memory but too new to be deemed stalwarts. In the decade that gave us Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You and Thriller Live, there’s only one show making the final list.

Of course, some shows are always worth a bit of a punt. There are potential big hitters coming our way soon that may in time become known as 'Best West End Musicals'. Watch out for Hadestown and Standing on the Sky’s Edge, both opening in February 2024.

Opinions will always be personal but if you want to do some research, we think this might be as close to a definitive list of the Top Fifteen Best West End Musicals as you can get. Watch the full rundown and get some useful facts and figures on the shows in the video here.

And enjoy the show!

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this article has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now