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 soon forget the credit card bill. That's why it's so important to pick a production wisely, especially when bringing young children to their first Broadway 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 on tickets thanks to various deals.
Find more upcoming NYC shows in our event calendar, or read reviews of current family productions to find the one that best suits your children.
Before splurging on tickets to a Broadway show, remember the official age minimum at theaters is 4, and every audience member needs a ticket. Although parents have certainly snuck toddlers into productions, you're much better off waiting 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!. 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, Tony-winning Disney musical is based on the animated blockbuster about the coming of age of a young cub. I saw it three times when it opened in 1997, and this was long before I became a mom. However, I recently returned with my daughter in tow, and am happy to report that, despite a different cast and theater, 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 parade down the aisles toward the stage is exhilarating, and an ideal way to introduce school-age kids to the magic of Broadway. The Lion King's official recommended minimum age 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, the show takes flight on a magic carpet ride. His introductory number, "Friend Like Me," is hilarious, and references other famous Broadway songs. And while the character is outrageously funny, he's nothing like Robin Williams in the film (which was a smart move, as the movie role was so specific to the late comedian's talents). The show also boasts some thrilling special effects, including a flying carpet. Tips: Aladdin's official recommended minimum age is 6, and it's best to watch the movie in advance and book a matinee.
Ages 8 and Up
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 music 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 The Phantom of the Opera and Cats fame, would write such convincing tunes. Like most critics, I left joyfully banging my head. The lead is adorable and energetic, putting his own stamp on the role. Meanwhile, the kids, all real-life musicians and Broadway neophytes, are spectacular, especially pint-size guitarist Brandon Niederauer. It's inspiring to watch these tykes rock out! Note: There's a bit of cursing and plenty of defying authority.
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The Cats revival is pure fun and silliness, sure to introduce kids to the awesomeness of theater.
Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Sadly this show has closed.
Long before they became Internet darlings felines were stage stars in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, inspired by T. S. Eliot poems. Despite that pedigree, Cats is, frankly, pretty silly, with a barely there plot featuring a wide variety of kitties singing for their salvation (aka a chance to be reborn). But forget all that nonsense. There are three key reasons this show is beloved by so many: Its stunning visuals (That sprawling trash heap set! That kooky cat makeup!); its awe-inspiring dancing; and that classic earworm "Memory." In the '80s and '90s, the original production served as the gateway drug that sparked many a child's love for live entertainment. Though slightly scaled-down, this revival is pretty much a carbon copy, and is introducing a new generation of kids to the wonder of theater.
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 features lots of 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.
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Based on the animated movie, Anastasia is a dramatic royal tale about finding yourself.
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Another great choice for the fierce females in your family, this musical is based on the popular 1997 animated movie of the same name about a young amnesiac street sweeper who just may be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Granted, it's inspired by a legend that was recently disproved making it historically inaccurate, and some of the action takes place against the bloody backdrop of the Russian Revolution. However, the scary parts of the story (like the assassination of Anastasia's entire family) are handled so subtly, little kids probably won't quite get what's going on (7 is the official recommended minimum age). At its heart, it's about finding yourself, as Anastasia journeys from St. Petersburg to Paris with a pair of con men to try to convince her grandmother that she's the real deal. Along the way there's plenty of romance and absolutely stunning visuals thanks to breathtaking costumes and immersive projections which conjure the lavish locales. Fans of the film should note that the story has been significantly altered; Rasputin and Bartok are gone and there's a new Javert-from-Les Mis-style villain named Gleb. However, six of the movie's songs, including the Oscar-nominated "Journey to the Past" remain alongside more than a dozen new pop-heavy numbers.
Tweens and Teens
The Play That Goes Wrong
Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue
A slapstick comedy that's as featherbrained as it is funny, this show was imported from London by J.J. Abrams (!!), the writer-director-producer behind the Star Wars and Star Trek franchise reboots. That's interesting considering that its premise and appeal are super-low-tech. A university drama club attempts to put on an old-fashioned whodunit, but the members are definitely not up to the task. If your family enjoys watching actors convincingly pretend to get knocked out, drink paint thinner, botch their lines, destroy the set, and just generally fail, then this show's for you. Note: There is some salty language, catfighting, and an actress ends up getting stripped down to her undies in a sequence some have deemed sexist. But this isn't a thinking show. Turn off your brain and enjoy the pratfalls.
Your teens will laugh along with you at the wild Tony-winning Kinky Boots that carries a positive message—and songs by Cyndi Lauper.
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 first saw this show at age 8 and loved it so much, she insisted on going again this year. She's always raving 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.
Come From Away
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
My 11-year-old and I fell completely in love with this uplifting, history-based musical about how the residents of Gander, Newfoundland opened their homes and their hearts to the 7,000 plane passengers diverted there on 9/11. For a few fraught days, the small town almost doubled in size as denizens cared for and comforted these stranded passengers when U.S. airspace temporarily closed. A cast of 12 adeptly plays dozens of characters and croons the Celtic-infused tunes. I understand if the idea of a 9/11 musical gives you pause, but the terrorist attacks are the backdrop, not the focus, and this incredible true story (based on extensive interviews with people who were there) reaffirms your faith in humanity at a time when we could really use it.
Expect tough subjects—suicide, bullying, and more—but also searing performances and fun pop rock at Dear Evan Hansen.
Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Best for teens (12 is the recommended minimum age), this intense tuner touches on a slew of hot-button topics including adolescent suicide, depression, bullying, class differences, and the impact of social media on all our lives. Phew! Yet despite its heavy and complex story about an anxiety-ridden loner who's mistaken as the best friend of a classmate who killed himself, Dear Evan Hansen is surprisingly entertaining, even when it's tearing your heart out. I saw it with my 11-year-old and while she was too young to completely relate, she enjoyed the pop-rock songs and the searing performances, and it certainly sparked a few important conversations. It's a tough ticket but if you've got a high-schooler in your household, it's a must-see.
If you are wondering about Hamilton, tickets are still 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. It totally lives up to the hype. Another family-friendly winner that's difficult to snag seats to is the sumptuous revival of Hello, Dolly!, which is a fluffy, eye-popping, old-fashioned delight. Once star Bette Midler leaves (reportedly in January 2018) it should be much easier to get into but may not be as worth it.
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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 offer 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 four 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, and handles the online lotteries for some Broadway shows. Playbill also has a comprehensive rush, lottery, standing-room-only (SRO), and student ticket list that's frequently updated. Most lotteries are done online so you can don't even have to leave the house to enter.
You can snag two-for-one tickets to a host of Broadway shows thanks to this biannual deal, which (despite its name) typically takes place for three weeks in January/February and September/October. Many shows sell out within minutes so you need to log on right at 10:30am the first day tickets go on sale. Seating restrictions and black-out dates apply. To avoid additional fees, go directly to the box office if possible. To find out when Broadway Week tickets go on sale, sign up at the official website.
Kids' Night on Broadway
Another two-for-one Broadway ticket deal, but this one's specifically for families. Buy one full-price adult ticket to a kid-friendly show and snag a FREE child's seat (ages 6-18). Kids' Night on Broadway typically takes place on a weeknight in February. Sign up for the Broadway Fan Club to get on the info list.
This article was first published in January 2016, but was updated for the 2017 season.
Top image: Anastasia is a sure winner among families. All photos by Matthew Murphy/courtesy of the productions.