8 Destinations To Introduce the Family to Great Theater
Broadway lights up Manhattan; photo c. Tagger Yancey IV for NYC & Company
Contemporary La Jolla Playhouse; photo by Allan Ferguson, SD Guides
The classic Palace Theatre is in Cleveland's Playhouse Square complex.

Fans of Broadway dream about visiting New York to catch a live show in one of the 40 professional theatres located near Times Square and Lincoln Center.

“In New York, we have tourists coming from all over the world,” agrees Sean Hartley, Director of Theater@Kaufman at New York’s Kaufman Music Center, “but they tend to want to see shows they’ve heard of, usually many years old, like “Phantom of the Opera.”

Hartley is a playwright, award winning performer, director and genuine super-fan of old and new musical theater, as evidenced by Broadway Close Up, the Kaufman series he produces. He’s also involved with the Poppyseed Players kids theater company and Broadway Playhouse, which will help ages 4-11 appreciate the work of The Gershwins, Harold Arlen and Alan Menken in 2017. We asked him where parents can introduce families to the thrill of live theatre.


Scoring a Cheap Broadway Seat

In addition to peering behind-the-scenes at Kaufman, theatre lovers traveling to New York during NYC Broadway Week (January 17- February 5, 2017) can actually score 2-for-1 Tickets to 19 shows including The Lion King, Wicked and the new A Bronx Tale. (The website has plot descriptions that will help parents decide which shows are appropriate for their children.) Another 74 businesses are participating in NYC Attractions Week, offering discounted admission to popular tours, culture and performing arts across all five boroughs, during this period. Year round, promotions like TKTS and the TodayTix app help fans find discounted seats to major shows, some of which have daily lotteries for same night tickets.

As exciting as that prospect is, Hartley notes there are several other destinations where great theatre is born, nurtured, premiered – and can be enjoyed all year long — at a fraction of the cost of the Great White Way.


Musical Theatre and More in Seattle

Hartley, a big fan of regional theatre, says Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Providence and Atlanta all have vibrant cultural scenes. “In general, the local audiences in these cities are enthusiastic and loyal, and willing to try new material,” he adds, noting that there’s more than just musicals to see.

Hartley’s top recommendation for musical fans is Seattle, Washington, where the Fifth Avenue Theater does big theater productions. Aladdin, Christmas Story and Catch Me If You Can are just a few Seattle family hits that later opened on Broadway.

“Producers often partner with these theaters, like Fifth Avenue, in order to share the risk. They mount a production to see how it plays in front of an audience,” he explains, “and if it’s a big hit, they get the confidence to raise more money and bring it to New York.”

The $99 special offer for three orchestra seats gives families a chance to see a lot of theatre. “And right outside of Seattle is Issaquah,” Hartley adds, “where the Village Theater also puts on great shows, including Million Dollar Quartet, which came to Broadway.”


Shakespeare and Company in San Diego

There are three stages at The Old Globe, California’s oldest professional theatre company, where world premieres of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Full Monty and Bright Star, currently on Broadway, were staged. The Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival attracts travelers from around the world to San Diego each summer, with tickets starting at $29 for most productions. Fans under 30 can sign up for “20 Under 30” and get $20 seats.

Many Tony Awards have gone to both The Old Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse, where The Who’s Tommy, Jersey Boys and Peter and the Starcatchers – all great shows for tweens and teens — are some nationally recognized productions.


Washington DC Rocks with Theater

“I love the Signature Theatre in Arlington, just outside of Washington, DC,” says Hartley, praising their recent production of a new musical based on Freaky Friday, which will be playing in La Jolla through March 2017.

“Years ago, a show would always go on the road and play Philadelphia, New Haven, Boston and Washington before coming to New York,” he said. “But touring costs have made this too expensive.”

Signature Family Tickets (two adults and two kids ages 6-17 for just $150) contribute to a bargain getaway when you factor in the cheap weekend rates at D.C. hotels, free museums, and abundance of inexpensive ethnic restaurants.


Chicago is the Big Leagues

The League of Chicago Theatres is a promotional alliance of more than 250 theaters ranging from non-union Off Loop storefronts to big-budget downtown cultural centers. During the upcoming Chicago Theatre Week (February 9-19, 2017), 100 top shows sell $15 and $30 tickets, and several hotels, such as the Sheraton Grand Chicago, have theatre-goer specials.

The local Hot Tix makes half price theatre tickets available year round, even at the five Tony Award-winning regional theatres, including the famous Steppenwolf and Goodman Theatre. 


London Comes to Broadway

London is famous for its West End productions — ranging from musicals to dramas to Shakespeare — many of which come to Broadway after successful runs. Visiting families will definitely want to plan on seeing at least one show, and prices are much less than New York. And of course, the talent is legendary. Summer visitors with children can count on Kids Week, held last year in August, for greatly discounted shows and special events geared to school-age children.


Where Broadway Goes on the Road

Did you know Cleveland’s Playhouse Square is the country’s second largest performing arts center after Lincoln Center, drawing more than a million visitors each year? Families visiting the home of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Lake Erie attractions and big sports events, will find year round entertainment like the KeyBank Broadway Series, featuring seven shows three weeks each in 2017, including The King and I, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and An American in Paris. The Wyndham Cleveland at Playhouse Square offers double rooms with breakfast for $135 per night.

Toronto is also a major theater city and the Canadian dollar is currently trading at a 25% discount. Mirvish Productions, now with four theatres, has been bringing musicals, dramas, comedies and more to Toronto and regional Canadian stages for over 50 years. From its early days hosting road shows traveling from London or New York, the company is now involved with producing international hits such as Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Several Mirvish visitor packages are available in Toronto, with offers that include a luxury hotel room, three-course meal, and orchestra seat for the upcoming Cabaret, for only CDN$219 per person.

Keep in mind that Toronto is also the city that’s turned a main thoroughfare, Bloor Street, into a Culture Corridor. Within a one-mile walk between Bathurst and Bay Streets, there are 12 major arts and culture organizations, some free, to inspire the kids. Between sampling some documentary films, Native Canadian art, celebrity shoes, old Masters, and orchestras, it’s the perfect way to tire them out so they’ll be able to sit still at their very first Broadway show.


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