Theater Magic: 9 Steps To Create Theatre Lovers - My Family Travels

A real showgirl reviews some Broadway and Off-Broadway shows for theater-goers under 16, with tips on introducing kids to live theater on any vacation.

I live and grew up in New York, and some of my fondest childhood memories are of going to Broadway musicals with my family. Since I don’t have my own children, I couldn’t wait until my nephews were old enough for me to start sharing the magic with them. Theater-going with young nephews also taught me how to introduce theater and its etiquette to children.

Introducing Toddlers to Live Theatre

I started out with Jake, age 6, alone, the nephew who had seem some live shows at his school and local public library. The first play I took him to was “Cats.” It wasn’t my first choice, but he really wanted to see it because of the TV commercials. I hesitated to take him, since I worried that the show, a collection of vignettes, songs, and dances about being a cat, might be too abstract for him.

To my delight, the tickets I had ordered turned out to be front row, which made a big difference. He could really see everyone and all their expressions, and even got to pet one of the “cats” during intermission. He loved the show; too bad it’s no longer running.

That first foray having been so successful, I next took Hugo, then age 3, to see a terrific Off-Broadway show called Stomp.” It has no story and no songs, but it has plenty of what Hugo loves: drums, banging, and general loud noise. “Stomp” is an extremely inventive, exhilarating show.

After intermission, it did get a little long and loud for Hugo so he lay down in my lap. But before long, the music got him up and dancing in his seat.

School Age Kids can Appreciate More Shows

The solo expeditions having been a success, Grandma and I took both boys to “Beauty and the Beast,” another great family show that has closed. Our tickets were the same day as a huge snowstorm, so the theater was half empty. I taught the boys a critical Broadway lesson: if there are good empty seats when the lights go down — grab them! “Awesome!” breathed my nephew Jacob (7), looking at the pyrotechnics on stage. His younger brother, Hugo (4), too stunned to say anything, just sat there the whole show, his mouth slightly ajar with astonishment.

Soon after, their father and I took Jake to see another great Off-Broadway show for both parents and kids over 6, “Blue Man Group.” It was just three men, dressed and painted entirely blue, doing hilarious mime routines involving paint, food, and occasionally, audience members. At the same time, there is a highly sophisticated text and subtext to the routines that will have parents rolling in the aisles (while kids remain oblivious). The boffo ending, which involved mountains of toilet paper, had Jake completely beside himself, shrieking with glee. And afterwards, to add icing to the cake, the cast was outside the theater talking to the audience.

Additional ideas for bringing kids to Broadway, or even to a road show playing in a city near you, as suggested by frequent theater-goer Piers Portfolio, age 14:

The Lion King” Life-size giraffes at 20-feet-tall and costumed child actors at four feet tall share the stage in this long running musical. Tickets are hard to get, but, like the Disney movie, everyone in the family will enjoy this.

The Phantom of the Opera” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical retelling of the myth of a mysterious and deformed creature that haunts the Paris Opera House. Best for older children, as the story is more serious and the show is slow-moving.

Rent” The story of seven friends, A.I.D.S., and how they learn to love each other and themselves has left Broadway, but road shows are touring the US and the world. A heart-wrenching story with fabulous music. Not recommended for children under 13.

Wicked” Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, the story of The Wizard of Oz from the (not so) Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view. The magical performance includes monkeys flying over the audience and others “defying gravity.” Great for all ages.

9 Tips for Taking Kids to the Theatre

For preschoolers, a live performance at a local library, high school, or church is an appropriate first outing. Explain carefully what to expect. This will help them overcome fears about the dark, and help kids understand new rules about sitting still, keeping quiet, applauding, no eating or drinking in the theater, etc. And you won’t feel cheated by leaving when things get too squirmy.

Another option for introducing theatre to young children is during your family vacation. Live theatre at theme parks and on cruise ships has become a regular attraction you should take advantage of. Since you’ve already paid the “admission price” so to speak, make sure to catch a whoe show, from beginnning to end, and watch how toddlers respond.

Off and Off-Off Broadway productions can be more comfortable for newcomers to theater magic: tickets are cheaper, and shows are in smaller theaters, so everyone has a good view. The TaDa! youth theater is located at 15 West 28 Street between Broadway and 5th Avenue in New York City. With youth casts and fun stories, this can be a great and inexpensive way to start your dramatists. Check out the Tada Theater for schedules.

Note that 8:00pm performances are very hard for kids to sit through. Some of the best family-oriented theaters, such as the New Victory ( 646/223-3020, tickets as low as $10 for terrific, offbeat productions) have 5pm, 6pm, or 7pm curtains and productions that last 60-95 minutes. Most Off-Broadway shows have matinees on Sunday only; most Broadway shows have Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees.

Research shows ahead of time using the Broadway League ( 888/BROADWAY), which offers up-to-date information about shows currently in New York City, or about Broadway touring companies performing in more than 50 other US cities. You will hear plot synopses, show times, ticket prices, and theater addresses. Playbill Online is another useful research resource.

Get the best possible seats you can afford — it’s very important for kids to sit up close where they can see and hear everything, and feel more a part of the action.

Use The Broadway League’s newest service, The Broadway Concierge & Ticket Center (212/764-1122), to get same-day tickets, package details and knowledgeable customer service regarding Broadway’s newest shows.

If you can, share a story book, CD, and/or video of the show with kids beforehand, to expose them to the plot and build up excitement about seeing it live. They’ll also enjoy it more if the music is familiar.

Buy kids candy during intermission, unless it’s completely against your rules. It adds a festive air to going to the theater and helps make the whole experience fun.

If your kids are old enough (and you’re willing), wait at the stage door to have their programs autographed. It can be extremely thrilling for kids to actually talk to actors, and stage actors are usually adorable with kids.

And then, if you keep on listening to the CD at home, and learn the words, those long car drives can become lots of fun…. See you on Broadway!

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