Since it’s actually Kids’ Night Out on Broadway this week (until March 2nd!) where you can get a free kids ticket when you buy an adult ticket, here’s my advice for taking your kid to a Broadway (or, really, any) show! (PS- Click here for Kids’ Night Out events across the US.)
When I was 4 years old, my mom took me to my first Broadway show. It was Annie. I still have some memories of it- I can see the character of Annie on the stage in my mind’s eye.
I loved it. I remember getting the sound track to the movie in record form and playing it on my Fisher Price record player while dancing around my bedroom. Even at 4yo, I could relate to It’s a Hard Knock Life.
So, when Annie came back on Broadway, my mom and I were both eager to take Mabel to see it. She wasn’t even 3 years old (about a month shy). It seemed a little silly to take a child so small to such an expensive show, but we didn’t want miss the chance to have her first Broadway experience be so much like mine. So, my mom considered it a Christmas/Birthday present and we took her.
In advance of that, I picked up the DVD of the 80s movie and let Mabel watch it so she’d be familiar with the music and the plot (even though the movie deviates a bit). I also borrowed the soundtrack of the movie from the library and ripped it so she could listen to the music (FYI- we now measure road trip distances traveled by how many times we’ve repeated the soundtrack- although Newsies! and Frozen soundtracks have also entered rotation).
She LOVED the movie and the music- particularly all the little kids singing and dancing. She was super excited for the show.
We took her, she loved it. Twenty minutes in, she did claim to have to use the bathroom (even though she’d gone right before we sat down), but it was a false alarm. She was really thrilled. She was mesmerized the whole time, although there was little squirming, because her eyes were glued to the stage.
Just last month we took her to see Newsies. (Another movie I have fond memories of from my childhood!) I did the same thing, having her watch the movie and be familiar with the plot and songs (even though it also deviates a bit). It didn’t work out as well. She wasn’t as into it and got quite antsy during the show. (It was distracting for me, but I hope the people a few rows back didn’t notice. Thankfully the seats in the row ahead of us and the two rows behind us were empty!).
Why didn’t it work out as well? I think she just didn’t like the story as much, and the Broadway version did NOT have little boys in it. I joked to my mom, “Those are the most muscular, orphaned street urchins I’ve ever seen!” The actors were clearly much older than the kids in the movie were supposed to be.
I do think Mabel was too young for Newsies, and it was a waste of money. I think she enjoyed it well enough, but she’d probably like it a lot more next year. Thankfully the tickets were buy one/get one, so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been.
[Overall, I was disappointed in it as well. There were lines so cheesy that I rolled my eyes. The plot was much more contrived, complete with love story. The accents were all over the place (and I don't mean the 5 boroughs). Not to mention the changes to the plot, and the conversion of "Have to fear, Brooklyn's here!" into a song that eliminated the line! It did not hold up to my 7th grade recollection of watching the movie obsessively. That said, the dancing was AMAZING! And they did justice to Carrying the Banner, King of New York, The World Will Know, and Seize the Day. I'm glad I saw it.]
So what would be my tips for taking a kid to a show?
1. Know your kid. If your kid, at any age, cannot sit still and be well behaved for 2 hours, don’t waste your money and the money spent by the people around you. I would have taken Mabel out of the theater if she distracted people around us. People pay a lot of money for those tickets, they don’t need it ruined by an antsy kid. Annie, for Mabel, was perfect at almost three years old. Newsies for Mable at four years old was not great- during intermission I told her that if she didn’t sit still we’d have to leave, and I meant it. Thankfully she listened and was able to (mostly) sit still.
2. Theaters have booster seats (basically cushions) for kids to sit on so they can actually see. Mabel used a booster for Newsies. For Annie she just sat on all our coats (which worked well because then we didn’t have to hold them).
3. Minimize drinking (by your child, it might help you to imbibe) pre-show and visit the bathroom immediately before the show starts. However a meal or snack before the show is a good idea so you don’t have a cranky, hungry kid.
4. Show the child the movie version in advance, let them listen to the soundtrack. There are lots of shows that are based on movies, and there are lots of shows that are revivals for which a movie version is available. Check your local library or Amazon. Seeing the movie helps kids understand what’s going on and be better able to follow along. If deviations from the movie will irk your kid, make them aware of plot changes they should expect.
5. Have water, tissues, etc with you so you don’t have to get up during the performance. If your child needs them, bring ear plugs or ear muffs, sun glasses, etc. (Newsies was loud to me. Also it did have a scene where a newspaper photographer takes a photo- the old fashioned flash explosion startled Mabel, it was loud and bright. There was another scene where the stage lights got really bright, so many in the audience had to cover their eyes with their hands. FYI!). You can read reviews of the show in advance to see if it mentions stuff that might bother your kid.
6. Pick a time that does not coincide with nap/bed time. Matinees are great unless your kid normally naps at that hour. If you can do a 7/7:30pm evening show, encourage your child to take a nap. (This didn’t work for Mabel and she was yawning during Newsies, but it did work for Annie).
7. If you are really worried about behavior, try a dry run of a local community theater show. If your kid can’t sit still, at least you’ll only have spent $20 figuring it out.
8. If your kid has sensory issues, hearing loss, special needs, a wheelchair, etc. check with the theater. Look first to the website, don’t be bashful about calling the theater. Lots of theaters have headphones for the hearing impaired, seating for wheelchairs, etc. Some even offer special performances for kids with special needs so parents can relax too without worrying about the daggers being shot at them by cranky theater goers. The Theatre Development Fund does a lot of great stuff to make theater accessible to everyone. Check out this awesomeness! For upcoming performances that are part of the TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative click here.
9. Discuss expectations in advance. Mabel recently danced in a feis. While we were there watching other kids dance we spoke about being a good audience member- sitting still, paying attention, not talking, etc. I reminded her of that when we saw Newsies.
10. Be prepared for (avoiding) additional expenses. Theaters make money however they can- that includes drinks in souvenir cups and snacks during intermission, all kinds of souvenirs, CDs, etc to purchase. If you don’t intend to spend additional money, discuss it in advance. If the theater will be selling the CD/doll/T-shirt at an incredible mark-up and you’d like your kid to have it, purchase it elsewhere in advance. Bring snacks and drinks in your purse (I’m not talking an Igloo cooler or a picnic basket, but a water bottle and granola bar).
So those are my suggestions. Do you have anything to add? How old were you when you saw your first musical or play? Have you taken your kids yet?
If you’re a Broadway newbie, check out the Theatre Development Fund’s guide to Broadway! Also check out TDF’s Guide to Family Friendly Live Performances.