It's one big girls' night out at the theatre

Women are driving the boom in the West End as more theatres turn to female-friendly shows derived from the silver screen. Kate Youde investigates

We have read chick lit and watched chick flicks; now women are queuing up for a stream of female-friendly dramas on the stage. Theatre is awash with shows appealing particularly to women, many based on popular novels and films, and more are in the pipeline. Women are responding in their droves, often on a girls' night out.

Crowd-pleasers include the musical Legally Blonde, which opened in January and is based on the Reese Witherspoon film, and the Abba-inspired Mamma Mia!, which went from the stage to the big screen. Bridget Jones: The Musical is in development, with author Helen Fielding adapting her chick lit phenomenon and Lily Allen writing the songs.

Dirty Dancing, inspired by the 1987 film, smashed West End records when it took £11m in advance sales. Ghost: The Musical, based on another popular Patrick Swayze film, opens next year. Grease has played to more than 1.25 million people – approximately three-quarters of them women – since returning to the West End three years ago.

Arlene Phillips is choreographing Flashdance: The Musical, an adaptation of the 1983 film about a female welder who loves to dance, which previews from September. "I don't think it's a conscious 'we are going to do chick theatre'," she said. "It just happens to be that there is an explosion of those musicals around and, fortunately, it is the women audiences who go back again and again that are keeping these musicals on in the West End." She added theatre had changed, with audiences now including hen nights and groups of women screaming for the show's stars.

"When, for instance, Grease first opened, it was very much a traditional theatre audience coming to see it," explained the So You Think You Can Dance judge, who also choreographed that musical. "It was families or teenagers. You didn't get, as we do now, huge parties. Sometimes on the Friday night and Saturday night, the theatre is packed with screaming crowds of women cheering on the dancing. That is something new."

The number of groups booking theatre trips for London hen parties through company Hen Heaven increased by a third in the past three years. According to a survey for the Society of London Theatre, the trade association representing producers, theatre owners and managers, 68 per cent of theatregoers in 2008 were female, up from 61 per cent in 1997.

Women buy 57 per cent of theatre tickets sold by Lastminute.com, with the figure rising by one percentage point every year. Mark Bower, head of lifestyle at the online retailer, said the increase was probably down to shows "skewed towards women".

Calendar Girls, based on the film about Women's Institute members stripping off for charity, is the fastest-selling UK theatre tour, selling out in every venue before opening. Box-office sales since September 2008 will hit £20m next month. Men account for only about 20 per cent of its audience. However, this rose to about 50 per cent when Kelly Brook starred in the production.

Martin Ronan, executive producer at Limelight, which is producing the revival tour of Dave Simpson's play Girls' Night Out, said: "What producers have become more aware of is if they can actually target a show specifically at that audience there's a better chance of selling tickets. I think [theatre] has always been female-driven, but there's been an increase in the product out there for them."

Bridget Jones: The Musical

We have read Bridget Jones's Diary and its sequel, and seen the films. Now Working Title is doing a stage adaptation with tunes by Lily Allen.

Grease

After three years at Piccadilly Theatre, this is still the one the audience wants. Noel Sullivan, formerly of Hear'Say, stars as Danny.

Ghost: The Musical

Famous for its steamy pottery wheel scene with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, this popular film is due to be adapted as a West End show next year.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The hit musical about drag queens on a road trip in the Outback is adapted from one of Australia's biggest films.

Calendar Girls

Sixty-six actresses have used 120,000 sunflowers to preserve their modesty in 70 theatres. Male audiences soared when Kelly Brook joined up.

Legally Blonde

The musical starring Sheridan Smith as a dippy law student extended booking last month to October 2011.

Flashdance: The Musical

The story of a welder by day and "flashdancer" by night, this musical – choreographed by Arlene Phillips – is an adaptation of the 1983 movie.

Girls' Night Out

The revival of Dave Simpson's play of "love, laughter and men in thongs" is entertaining women across the country with its story of a hen night in a strip club.

Mamma Mia!

More than 40 million people across the world have seen this stage phenomenon since its premiere in 1999 and said thank you for the music of Abba.

Dirty Dancing

Like Baby, nobody puts this musical in the corner: almost 1.8 million people have seen the box-office hit in London.

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