Best NYC Kids’ Theater Shows Spring 2013: 14 Family Shows at Non-Broadway Prices
Our spring culture coverage continues with a look at the most promising family shows opening this season. Reading the papers, you might think the only great productions for kids are on Broadway. But while Matilda (it's dark!) and Cinderella (it's light!) command the media spotlight and cost big bucks, there are many wonderfully creative children's theater performances off Broadway and beyond.
The selection this spring is particularly intriguing and there are options for all age groups, including a few shows that are perfect for first-time theatergoers. The New Victory has a pair of plotless spectacles, one acrobatic, the other urban dance, and Making Books Sing and TADA! Youth Theater are adapting popular kids' books by Eileen Spinelli and Ezra Jack Keats. Plus the New York Children's Theater Festival returns for its second year on the Upper West Side, and the tenth annual International Toy Theater Festival takes place in Brooklyn. The one thing all of these shows have in common? You can take the kids to see them without dipping into their college fund—most are $20 or under and one is even FREE.
Le Grand C – Midtown West
Thursday, April 18-Sunday, April 28. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Ages 7 and up
I'm catching this circus show next week with my daughter's second grade class, and I don't know who is more excited: them or me. A group of 17 acrobats perform incredible stunts—tossing, tumbling and building human towers. No big hardware or sequined outfits here; all they've got are their incredible athletic bodies and awesome skills, and it's all set to traditional French music. A must-see for nontraditional circus fans.
New York Children's Theater Festival – Upper West Side
Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater, West Side YMCA, 5 West 63rd Street between Broadway and Central Park West
Last year, I wrote an entire post about the first-ever New York Children's Theater Festival. While I only managed to catch one of the three shows, I was impressed with the fest as a whole. There were fun pre-show activities for kids (this year, face painting, magic and juggling performances, and art workshops are on the schedule), and the vibe was casual and welcoming. This year's fest takes place on three consecutive weekends on the Upper West Side:
The Tale of Jamie Freel: A Faerie Story – Friday, April 19 at 5:30pm; Saturday, April 20 at 11am and 1pm; Sunday, April 21 at 2pm
Ages 7 and up
Based on an old Irish folktale, the show mixes storytelling, dance and music to tell the tale of a young hero whose thirst for adventure uncovers a magical world.
Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater! – Friday, April 26 at 5:30pm; Saturday, April 27 at 11am and 1pm; Sunday, April 28 at 2pm
Ages 4 and up
A puppet musical about a young student who's so stressed out about testing, she considers cheating. Awesome timing since the ELA and Math Assessments are going on.
Molly Bloom-Lately – Friday, May 3 at 5pm; Saturday, May 4 at 11am and 1pm; Sunday, May 5 at 2pm
Ages 5 and up
An anti-bulling musical about a vertically challenged third grader who learns to stand up for herself and others.
Wanda's Monster the Musical – Midtown West
Friday, April 19-Sunday, May 12. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Theater 3, 311 West 43rd Street near Eighth Avenue
$20 for adults, $15 for children under 12
Ages 3 to 6
We already highlighted this new musical in our April NYC Go List, but its creative pedigree makes it worth touting again. Nonprofit children's theater company Making Books Sing debuts a page-to-stage adaptation of Eileen Spinelli's picture book Wanda's Monster about a feisty five-year-old whose grandma turns the tables on the old monster-in-the-closet legend. While we've loved many of the troupe's other shows like The Butterfly and Sky Boys, the big news here is that preschool rock goddess Laurie Berkner wrote the songs! It's her first foray into musical theater and the numbers include her hit "Monster Boogie" as well as brand-new tunes.
Adventures From Ezra Jack Keats – Flatiron
Friday, April 19-Sunday, May 19. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
TADA! Youth Theater, 15 West 28th Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue
$20-$25 for adults, $8-$15 for children
Ages 5 and up
Another April NYC Go List pick! We often rave about the shows at this venerable family theater company, which is made up entirely of local youths ages 8 to 18. But we're particularly excited about the troupe's new production, since it's based on two picture books by one of our favorite children's authors: Ezra Jack Keats. Watch as talented kids bring the hidden saxophone player from Apt. 3 and the adventures of Maggie and the Pirate to life through song and dance.
Off the Map – Lower East Side
Saturdays, April 20, 27 and May 4 at 10:30am and 12:30pm
University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street at Rivington Street
$15 for adults, $5 for children
Ages 2 to 5
I've been hearing great things about the Trusty Sidekick Theater, which was founded by arts educator Jonathan Shmidt (who has a day job at the New Victory, so you know he has good taste). The company's latest show was created specifically for preschoolers and stars a subway train who's gone off the rails, literally. While most folks want to see him get back on track, one young passenger looks forward to taking a new uncharted route. Told with puppets, projections and people, Off the Map is a lovely first-time theater experience.
Little Red’s Hood – Citywide
Tuesday, April 22-mid-October
Locations, dates and times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Another awesome option for young theatergoers: The City Parks Foundation's PuppetMobile—a mobile offshoot of Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre—brings its contemporary take on the old Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to NYC parks free of charge. In this version of the oft-told story, Red is a sophisticated and cynical city kid obsessed with her smartphone who runs into a wolf when she visits her granny in the 'burbs. Since the show is outside and free, you have nothing to lose if your toddler can't make it to the end. But chances are your little one will be mesmerized by the handcrafted puppets.
The Gruffalo – Greenwich Village
Saturday, April 27 at 11am and 2pm
NYU Skirball Center, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South
Ages 3 and up
The Skirball's Big Red Chair Family Series wraps up for the season with this musicalization of Julia Donaldson's best-selling kids' book. An adventurous mouse scares off predators with tall tales of the terrifying Gruffalo but what happens when he meets the creature himself? England's Tall Stories theater company brings its award-winning production to NYC. Live in Brooklyn? The production is also playing on Sunday, April 28 at Kingsborough Community College's Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center.
In the Garden – Fort Greene
Friday, May 3-Sunday, May 5 at 10:30am and 1pm
BAM Fisher Fishman Space
Ages 1 to 4
The inaugural year of BAMfamily programming has been quite a success. One of the final offerings is this multimedia theater experience developed specifically for preschoolers. A couple walking through a garden comes across a piece of cloth, which sparks a visual feast of shadow play, projections and wordless wonder. The entire performance is one hour long, and that includes a post-show Q&A, so it's great for short attention spans.
RHAW – Midtown West
Friday, May 17-Sunday, May 26. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Ages 6 and up
I admit, I'm not the biggest dance fan but I usually love the movement-based shows at the New Vic. Somehow they speak to me more than what's going on at the Joyce. RHAW was developed by urban dance star Rennie Harris and features nine energetic performers who infuse their moves with a Philly street sensibility. Plus they do a mean tribute to Michael Jackson.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie & Other Story Books – Corona
Sunday, June 2 at 1 and 3pm
Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Avenue South in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Ages 5 to 10
Theatreworks USA's musical revue of contemporary kid lit is a real crowd pleaser. The big name stories include Laura Numeroff's title tale, Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Master Man by Aaron Shepard and Math Curse by the wickedly funny Jon Scieszka.
International Toy Theater Festival & Free Temporary Toy Theater Museum – Dumbo
Friday, June 14-Sunday, June 23
St. Ann’s Warehouse, 29 Jay Street between Plymouth and John Streets
$20 for adults, $10 for children
Did you know that there's an annual Toy Theater Festival in Brooklyn? And this year is its tenth anniversary! The fest isn't aimed at families and not all productions are kid-friendly. However, there are always a handful of offerings that children can see and additional attractions like a toy theater museum and puppet parade.The lineup for this year's edition won't be released until May 1 but you can sign up for the email list right away. Of course we'll be keeping an eye on the shows and will add all of the kid-friendly ones to our Event Calendar.
Peter and the Starcatcher – Midtown West
Ongoing. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
$72.50-$99 but you can save by using the Broadwaybox discount code
Ages 8 and up
I rarely recommend commercial off Broadway shows with open runs because, well, they tend to be pretty expensive. But I've seen this wonderfully inventive stage adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter Pan prequel twice now and it's worth the splurge. The show is low-tech theater at its finest, a celebration of imagination, the magic of childhood and the power of belly laughs. It won five Tony Awards and critical raves on Broadway before it transferred off Broadway last month. Frankly I think it plays even better in a smaller house. While it's officially recommended for ages 10 and up, my seven-year-old loved it. It's definitely a fanastic option for hard-to-please tweens, who might find some of these other recommendations too babyish.
Find out about other cool things to do with kids this season in our Spring Fun Guide.
- Day of the Dead Novenarios: 9 Free Nights of Dia de los Muertos Celebrations
- Best NYC Kids' Theater Shows for Fall 2014: 15 Fun Family Productions
- Take the Kids—10 Ways to Enjoy Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim Museum with Children
- Morningside Lights: Collaborate on Amazing Illuminated Sculptures at This Free Community Art Project