Let’s face it: Broadway is expensive and so are children. Combine the two and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind memorable (but pricey) evening, so it’s important that you pick the right show for your child, whatever the age. After all, no adult want to sit next to a squirmy, bored kid, and no kid want to sit next to a squirmy adult during awkward moments of irreverent humor. In that vein, we’ve broken down the best shows on Broadway right now by most appropriate age group — elementary, middle and high school — and explained what makes them so great for each. After all, this is a night they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, so you might as well make it one of the best, too. Keep in mind that no matter the age, these are not simply “kid shows”; each offers joys for the more mature (and more seasoned) theatergoers among us as well.
See our picks below, and for more check out our family shows page.
SHOWS FOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN
This show is a no-brainer for young girls. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s classic book, this musical takes audiences inside the vivid mind of a girl in a difficult situation. She rebels in her own way — by creating an alternate world, something to which younger children can easily relate. Four different young actresses alternate in the title role (collectively, they won the Tony), so young ladies will likely be dreaming of making it on Broadway themselves. Not to mention, the musical is known for its astonishing stagecraft and toe-thumping songs. Trust us, there won’t be a squirmer in the house.
Elizabeth Furze, Managing Partner at AKA, the ad agency that handles the show says that parents particularly like that Matilda is “the story of a young girl who sees the world she lives in and wants to make it better for her and for those around her. For parents, that’s a smart message.”
Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark
Boys and Broadway might not be your typical combination, but Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark has changed that. This super-powered musical has recruited a whole new generation of young fans, many of them elementary school-aged boys who are pulled in by a storyline they know and characters they recognize. Once in their seats, they’re wowed by the show’s spectacle, scenic design and flying effects (as are the parents). It’s a great introduction to Broadway for boys, and it’s also something rare: a terrific Broadway show for fathers to experience with their sons.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
This is a musical that young girls will eat up like a cherry-topped sundae. It has a classic score with an updated book by Tony-nominee Douglas Carter Beane and a fairy-tale story of the girl snubbed by her ugly stepsisters that most young girls know by heart. To keep everyone’s attention, this production has updated humor and super-fast costume changes that will have even adults scratching their heads.
“This show is as classic as it comes but with a modern eye,” says Pam Pariseau, the co-artistic director of the Broadway Teaching Group, an organization that connects students and teachers with the Broadway community through workshops and classes. “For elementary-school girls, the main character is a great role model. She’s fun, spunky and far from your bland Cinderella. She has moxie.”
The Lion King
For elementary school-aged children of either sex, there’s The Lion King. The Disney musical is the granddaddy of all family shows. Most kids have seen the movie many times, and Tony-winner Julie Taymor’s staging brings it to life with unforgettable costumes and sets. Elton John and Tim Rice’s score really sings, making this one theatrical experience that will likely be on repeat in your own home for weeks or months to come.
SHOWS FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN
The Phantom of the Opera
Having just celebrated its 25th anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera has the distinction of being the longest-running show in Broadway history (it’s also the second-highest grossing, with The Lion King coming in first). The subject matter is ideal for middle-grade kids as it involves a sophisticated love story that brings up complicated issues of obsession and unattainable love. Chances are also high that kids of this age will be intimately familiar with the lush Andrew Lloyd Webber score. And that falling chandelier never fails to impress even the most seasoned of theater-goers.
The gold standard for young girls and Broadway, Wicked is highly relatable to those undergoing the emotional roller coaster that is middle school. Subtitled The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, the musical has a hummable score by Stephen Schwartz that should be on every young theater fan’s iPod.
“This show has two amazing female roles that dominate the story, along with a score that appeals to younger girls because of its pop aspect,” says Pariseau of the Broadway Teaching Group. “It offers an immediately recognizable connection because of the two characters.”
Grace Gorant, age 14, who recently saw the show says she could easily relate to it. “I liked how much it connected with The Wizard of Oz and how there was a backstory with two sides to the characters,” she says, adding, “It’s just cool.”
When it returns to Broadway this spring, Les Misérables will be back in New York for the second time since its debut here in 1987. What makes it great for middle graders is its savvy mix of music, story and theatrics. Like Phantom, the show has a score that most young theater fans will know inside and out. Set against the political landscape of the French Revolution, the show deals with meaty issues like crime and punishment, bringing them to life through unforgettable characters, so it’s far from a drab history lesson. Fans of the recent movie will also appreciate seeing it live and on stage.
SHOWS FOR HIGH SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN
Rock of Ages
If there’s one thing high schoolers get, it’s irony. So even though “hair bands” may be way before their time, they’ll totally jam on the vibe of Rock of Ages, which weaves classic rock tunes from the 80s with a winky, funny storyline about an aspiring rock star searching for love and fame. Plus mom and dad get to relive their youth without boring their children with PG-rated tales of their first concert experience.
The newly minted Tony winner for Best Musical, Kinky Boots is a rare breed of Broadway show: edgy, funny and with a healthy dose of cross-dressing thrown in for good measure. It also has an on-point message about being yourself to fit in, a theme that high-school kids will likely embrace. A score by Tony-winner Cyndi Lauper, a book by four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein and a star turn by Billy Porter, who won the Tony for Best Actor, don’t hurt either.
“The show does a really good job about making it not about sexuality, but about individuality,” says Drew Hodges, the founder and CEO of Spotco, the theatrical advertising agency. “It’s about finding your own hopes and dreams, and that’s a really powerful message for high school time.”
The Book of Mormon
The runaway smash from the creators of South Park and one of the co-creators of Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon is not your parents’ Broadway musical. Though the story line seems chaste — two young missionaries are sent to Africa to convert people to Mormonism — the show employs some pretty jaw-dropping humor. Its heart is in the right place, however, and theatergoers have fallen for this Tony award-winner for Best Musical big-time.
As for all those rude jokes, Turner Hall, age 14, was fine with them. “They used a lot of words that weren’t good to say, but it was all about the context,” he says. “And you have to remember, it’s just a show.”
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