I have always loved musical theater; if I could give myself one talent, it would be to be able to sing and dance and act (OK so that’s three talents…) and be up there on the Broadway stage. Sadly, I can do none of those three things, and have to settle for going to watch other far more talented people than myself do their thing. I see as many shows as I can whenever we visit New York City, and the rest of the time, we’re seeing local or touring productions at home in Orlando. I seem to have passed my love for all things musical on to my 5-year old, Harrison, and I’ve been waiting for a couple of years for him to be old enough to come and see a show on Broadway with me. Finally this past December on our Christmas in New York City trip, we went to see Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theater, and Harrison was in his element! I’d done a few things to prepare him for his first Broadway show, and I thought I’d share those tips for any other parents planning a trip to New York City who might want to take their kids to see their first Broadway show too.
I didn’t want my son’s first big stage production to be at a Broadway theater for a number of reasons. Firstly, Broadway is crazy expensive these days, and if it turned out that Harrison’s love of musicals did not translate from the TV screen to the stage, then I didn’t want to have paid hundreds of dollars for him to lose interest quickly. Secondly, New York City is quite the distance from Florida, and although we do visit often, I didn’t want to have to wait until our next trip to see a show. So we decided to start with a touring production for Harrison’s first show, and luckily for us, our local performing arts center frequently offers Broadway Across America productions. The Lion King was one of the shows featured in the particular season we were looking at, and I figured that would be the perfect first show for Harrison; he knew the story, and it is a very family friendly show. The seats were reasonably priced since it’s a local performing arts center, and there were lots of other kids at the show. Harrison loved it, and we saw a few other local productions after that. If you live near a center that Broadway Across America visits, it’s definitely worth looking to see what shows they have coming up. If not, look into local community and high school theater productions to see what they’re offering. These are the perfect places to see just how much your little one enjoys the theater.
Choose the right first Broadway show
In other words, don’t start with The Book of Mormon. Not every Broadway show is family friendly; they might include violence or strong language or completely un-family friendly scenes or storylines – or they just might not be the kind of show that would hold a child’s interest. There are, however, a number of shows that are perfect for kids to go and see. The Disney productions are ideal here; The Lion King and Aladdin are great shows for families. If your child does well with these shows, you could try shows like Wicked, School of Rock, or Anastasia. You know your child best, and what kind of shows they will enjoy; some kids are more mature and might enjoy shows that others would find boring or not understand. Harrison enjoys the music most of all, so we tend to pick shows with big song and dance numbers to keep him interested. If you choose the wrong show, you risk your child getting bored and fidgety, which will make the show miserable for you and for them.
Be sure of the rules
Most Broadway shows will give a suggested age limit for a child to enter, but some actually have strict rules about kids under a certain age being allowed in the theater. Make sure that your child will actually be allowed to see the show before you buy tickets, otherwise you could get there to find you’re out of money and out of luck.
Go at the right time
I almost always buy tickets to matinee shows when taking Harrison. These shows are usually on in the afternoon, which is a much better time for him to be able to enjoy the show than at 8pm, which is past his bedtime. Matinee shows often have more children attending so you won’t feel out of place or awkward, and your child might have a longer attention span at this time of day. I’ve been to many an evening production where children have been obviously tired and lost interest in the show quickly. Again, you know your child best, and if they’re a night owl, they might do fine; I have just found for us that matinees work better.
Talk about behavior beforehand
Before I took Harrison to see Aladdin, we had MANY conversations about the behavior I expected from him. We talked about being quiet in the theater, and if he had a question during the show, to ask me quickly and quietly after a song when the applause would cover his whispering. We talked about going to the bathroom beforehand so we didn’t get up during the show, and if we did, that we’d have to stand at the back when we returned until an appropriate time to retake our seats. We talked about sitting still and not fidgeting, paying attention, and giving the actors on stage our full attention and respect. In other words, we went over basic theater etiquette that pretty much any theater goer should know. I had Harrison repeat a lot of this back to me as we were taking our seats to make sure he really understood how to behave, and I have to say, he’s always done a pretty good job.
Keep expectations to a minimum
Having said that – he’s only 5. Any young child can be unpredictable, and I know there are going to be times that he doesn’t behave perfectly, or he loses interest in a show I thought perhaps he’d like. This is the reason I generally pick cheaper seats when going to see these shows. While I don’t want to be sat all the way in the back so Harrison can’t see anything happening on stage, I’m also not going to be paying $500 for a front row orchestra seat that might go to waste if we have to leave – because if his behavior is disrupting others, that’s exactly what we’ll do. I buy tickets with the knowledge that I might have to take my child out of the theater for one reason or another, and I don’t pay more than I am comfortable wasting if that happens. Don’t get me wrong – I would NOT be happy if we had to leave a show I’d paid for if my son wasn’t behaving properly, but it would be better than him ruining it for others. So don’t spend a fortune on crazy expensive tickets if you’re just not sure your little one is going to last through the whole performance.
Have you taken your child to their first Broadway show? Do you have any other tips? Let me know in the comments!