Whether you're visiting NYC or live here year-round, seeing a Broadway show is a special family experience. Kids are sure to remember it vividly, and chances are parents won't forget the credit card bill. That's why it's so important to pick a Broadway production wisely, especially when bringing young children to their first performance.
While Disney juggernauts The Lion King and Aladdin are popular options, there are other kid-friendly choices that aren't as obvious. We've rounded up our 10 best Broadway musicals for families and organized them by age appropriateness. As a bonus, we've also got the scoop on how to save big bucks, including two-for-one tickets during the Broadway Week sale, which kicks off January 7.
Before splurging on tickets to a Broadway show, remember the official age minimum at most theaters is 4, and every audience member needs a ticket. Although parents have snuck toddlers into productions (especially Disney ones), wait until your kids are old enough to sit silently for long periods of time. For very young children new to live entertainment, start with more interactive shows like Off-Broadway's Gazillion Bubble Show! or something at the New Victory Theater. You'll save money and perhaps your sanity.
Kindergarten and Up
The Lion King
Minskoff Theatre, 200 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Of course, this long-running Disney musical is based on the animated blockbuster about the coming-of-age of a young cub. I saw it when it opened in 1997 and am happy to report that despite a change of casts and theaters, it's as thrilling as ever. The Lion King is a low-tech wonder filled with eye-popping puppets, exuberant production numbers and a gorgeous African-inspired aesthetic. The "Circle of Life" opening as the animals saunter down the aisles toward the stage is breathtaking, and an ideal way to introduce kids to the magic of Broadway. The Lion King's official recommended age minimum is 6, but a well-behaved 4- or 5-year-old should be fine. Tips: Watch the movie in advance and book a matinee.
New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Much as my daughter and I enjoyed Aladdin, this Disney-based hit doesn't deliver the jaw-dropping wonder of The Lion King. The exposition-heavy first half of Act I is slow. However, once the title character uncorks the incredible Genie, played by tireless Tony-winner James Monroe Iglehart, it takes flight on a magic carpet ride. His introductory number, "Friend Like Me," is incredible and references other famous Broadway songs. And while he's outrageously funny, Iglehart smartly doesn't try to imitate the film version's Robin Williams. He makes the character his own, and he's definitely the audience favorite. There are some thrilling special effects, including the flying carpet. Aladdin's official recommended minimum age is 6, and it's best to watch the movie in advance and book a matinee.
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Ages 8 and Older
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Closed Sunday, August 21
Admittedly, reviews of this show about the man behind Peter Pan have been mixed. But my daughter and I were moved by this musical based on the Oscar-nominated Johnny Depp movie of the same name. Subtle and nuanced it is not. Scottish writer J. M. Barrie, whose Peter Pan first arrived on stage in 1904, is presented as a tortured genius with an unhappy home life who escapes to a fantasy neverland with the help of a comely widow and her four precocious boys. Everything about it is over-the-top: the pop production numbers, the sets, costumes and the celebrity stunt casting (currently Glee star Matthew Morrison, though he's leaving on January 24). Kids will most likely embrace its bigness, but given that it touches on death and difficult topics, it's best for elementary-schoolers.
Matilda the Musical
Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Closing Sunday, January 1, 2017
Roald Dahl's cheeky children's novel about a smart little girl with magic powers and an awful family is brilliantly brought to the stage in this Tony-nominated tuner. The production doesn't tone down Dahl's dark humor. Instead, it follows Matilda's advice that "sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty" and features revolting children standing up to abusive adults, especially the evil teacher Miss Trunchbull (played by a man in drag). Fans of the book will eat it up. But you don't need to know the source material to enjoy this wickedly funny show.
School of Rock – The Musical
Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway at 50th Street
I had doubts going into this musical based on the Jack Black movie of the same name. The film, about a wannabe star teaching a bunch of private school kids to rock under false pretenses, was practically perfect and relied on classic songs. I could not imagine Andrew Lloyd Webber, of Phantom of the Opera and Cats fame, would write such convincing tunes. Like most critics, I left joyfully banging my head. The lead, Alex Brightman, is adorable and energetic, putting his own stamp on the role. Meanwhile, the kids, all real-life musicians and Broadway neophytes, are spectacular, especially 12-year-old guitarist Brandon Niederauer. It's inspiring to watch. Note: There's a bit of cursing and plenty of defying authority.
Girl power is just one of the kid-friendly themes running through Broadway favorite Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus/courtesy of the production.
Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Wizard of Oz-loving kids get a whole new take on Glinda the Good and the so-called Wicked Witch in this stunning musical that shares their backstories as BFFs turned romantic and political rivals. With two strong female protagonists, it's oozing with girl power, not to mention powerhouse songs by Stephen Schwartz such as Act I closer "Defying Gravity." The costumes and sets are amazing—especially the massive dragon hanging above the stage—and the moral that you should never judge a person by their skin color is poignant. Wicked's official recommended minimum age is 8, which makes sense because the show runs nearly three hours and has a few scary moments. If your child is enchanted by the spectacle, be sure to also book tickets to the behind-the-scenes Wicked tour, where you can learn all about the show's secrets.
Tweens and Teens
An American in Paris
Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway at 47th Street
Closing Sunday, October 9
While Gershwin tunes and dazzling dancing are appropriate for all ages, this sumptuous stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning MGM movie musical is best appreciated by more mature children. Directed and choreographed by ballet great Christopher Wheeldon, it features captivating dance sequences as an American WWII vet/aspiring artist looks for love and success in post-war Paris. It's helpful for kids to know a bit about World War II and the intricacies of adult romance, but mostly, they need to have patience. It's a slow but rewarding production with eye-popping numbers not soon forgotten.
Fiddler on the Roof
Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street
Closing Saturday, December 31
Based on the stories of Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem and featuring classic songs such as "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Sunrise, Sunset" by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, this iconic musical focuses on a father of five daughters trying to maintain his family's Jewish identity and safety in turn-of-the-20th-century Russia. But be warned, this is not your grandmother's happy Fiddler. As joyous as many of the numbers are, the show doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of life for Jews in that place and time, including crippling poverty, violent soldiers and, ultimately, exile. Kids should be old enough to understand that hatred and oppression have no explanation. My daughter and I adored this production, especially five-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein as the put-upon patriarch. Bring tissues, because you are sure to cry.
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Wayne Brady and the drag queens of Kinky Boots deliver an entertaining musical set to a message of "just be who you wanna be." Photo by Joan Marcus/courtesy of the production.
Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
Got a tween who loves drag queens? Then this Tony-winning musical is for you. My daughter saw it two years ago and still raves about it, especially the costumes and shoes. Inspired by the film of the same name, it's about two very different men, a wannabe yuppie and an outrageous drag queen, who end up collaborating on a snazzy line of footwear. This crowd-pleaser touches on homophobia, losing loved ones and gay rights. As long as your child is mature enough to understand those subjects, Kinky Boots is totally kid-friendly with a positive message ("just be who you wanna be"), and awesome songs by '80s icon Cyndi Lauper.
Tony winner Kelli O'Hara surrounded by her young pupils in The King and I. Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy of the production.
The King and I
Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue
Closed Sunday, June 26
Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved musical about the culture clash between the East and West is enjoying an exquisite revival at Lincoln Center. In the mid-19th century, an English widow and her young son travel to Siam (modern-day Thailand), where she teaches the King's many wives and children, and tries to rehabilitate his "barbarian" image. Due to complex issues of race, gender and romance (have fun explaining polygamy!) and a three-hour running time, The King and I is best for older children.
If you are wondering about Hamilton, tickets are near impossible to obtain. But if you have a connection or are willing to try the daily lottery, this amazing hip-hop history musical is a fantastic choice for children ages 10 and older. We loved it.
Of course, new shows open every season. The new year brings a musical adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's beloved children's novel Tuck Everlasting and Cirque du Soleil's first-ever Broadway spectacle Paramour. Will these become long-running family classics? Time will tell.
How to Save Money on Broadway Tickets
There are many sites that list discount codes for participating Broadway shows year-round, which can be used to purchase seats online or over the phone. If possible, print out the code and bring it to the box office to avoid service fees. Popular sites include Goldstar, Broadwaybox, Theatermania and Playbill.
For last-minute deals, wait at one of NYC's three TKTS Discount Booths to buy same-day theater tickets at up to 50 percent off. Or try the app TodayTix, which offers discounted as well as full-price seats. Be sure to read the fine print carefully before clicking buy.
There are also two fantastic annual Broadway ticket discount deals coming up.
For performances from Tuesday, January 19 through Friday, February 5, snag two-for-one tickets to a host of Broadway shows by using the code BWAYWK beginning Thursday, January 7 at 10:30am. Many shows sell out within minutes so log on right at 10:30am. There are seating restrictions. To avoid added ticketing fees, go directly to the box office. Broadway Week usually takes place in January and September of every year.
Kids' Night on Broadway
Another two-for-one Broadway ticket deal, but this one's especially for families. Buy one full-price adult ticket to a kid-friendly show and snag a FREE child's seat (ages 6-18) for performances on Tuesday, February 9. Tickets have been on sale since November and all of the big family hits are already sold out. But there are still tickets to Kinky Boots and several others, including stalwarts such as The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, so it's worth checking the entire list. Just keep an eye on appropriate ages, because many are recommended for 12 and older.
Top image: Alex Brightman making like Chuck Berry in School of Rock, photo by Timmy Blupe/courtesy of the production.