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 as well as attractive newcomers such as Harry Potter, SpongeBob, and Frozen. We've rounded up our 15 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 to some of our picks.
Peruse our event calendar for additional family theater options in NYC, or read reviews of current productions to find one that best suits your children.
Before splurging on tickets to a Broadway show, remember the official minimum age at theaters is 4, and every audience member needs a ticket. Although parents have certainly sneaked preschoolers into productions, you're 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 offerings like Off-Broadway's Gazillion Bubble Show!. You'll save money and, perhaps, your sanity.
Kindergarten and Up
The musical version of SpongeBob SquarePants is upbeat, colorful, and funny. Photo by Joan Marcus
Based on the kooky, anarchic Nickelodeon cartoon, this colorful musical comedy isn't some cynical brand extension. It's actually much more inventive and sweet than you might think. We gave the show a rave review, marveling at its imaginative sets, infectious songs (written by a slew of Grammy winners, including the late David Bowie), and its poignant messages about friendship and community as the residents of Bikini Bottom scramble to save their home from an environmental disaster. The recommended minimum age is 5, and tots will certainly be mesmerized by the crazy, colorful undersea world which spills out into the audience. But slightly older children will be better able to appreciate the show's themes. If you're willing to splurge, the VIP package includes excellent orchestra seats, a selfie with a cast member, a gift bag, and a voucher for a beverage and snack. Tips: Watch the TV series or one of the movies in advance and book a matinee.
The Lion King
This long-running, Tony-winning musical is based on Disney's 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 I'm 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
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.
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If you can score tickets, the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a hit with fans and Muggles alike. Photo by Manuel Harlan
Ages 8 and Up
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Magical is the word that best describes this two-part, five-hour stage saga, an eye-popping sequel to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series. In The Cursed Child, the boy who lived has become a middle-aged dad to a young wizard who's sick of living in his father's shadow. While the show is a must for fans of all ages, even those unfamiliar with the stories will fall under its spell. I admit, I haven't read any of the books or seen any of the movies, and yet I was as enthralled as my much more Potter-versed child. The play stands on its own as a self-contained tale (though there are plenty of references throughout that elicit gasps from those in the know), and with separate story lines for the kids and the parents, it's relatable to all ages. Plus, some of the illusions will have you rubbing your eyes and scratching your head, wondering, how did they do that?! Of course, you may need some magic to get tickets: The Cursed Child just opened to rave reviews and is sold out for the foreseeable future. Best to check the website frequently to find out when a new block of tickets is going on sale and then log in right away to try to snag some. The good news is, there is a wide range of price points (every performance has 300 seats priced at $40 or less per part), and every Friday at 1pm, 40 tickets for every performance the following week are released at $20 per part via TodayTix. Recommended for 10 and up but if your child is old enough to have read the books, they'll be fine.
School of Rock – The Musical
Winter Garden Theatre
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. It's inspiring to watch these tykes rock out! Note: Although the recommended minimum age is 8, there's a bit of cursing and plenty of defying authority.
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Disney's Frozen based on the hit movie is melting hearts at the St. James Theater. Photo by Deen van Meer
St. James Theatre
Girl power is alive and well with a trifecta of musicals (Wicked, Anastasia, and now Frozen) featuring strong female characters who save the day and find themselves in the process. Based on Disney's insanely popular animated movie of the same name, Frozen hews closely to the source material as magical ice Princess Elsa loses control of her powers on the day she is to be crowned queen, and flees her kingdom with her loving sister Anna in hot pursuit. All the plot twists and songs (including the Oscar-winning "Let It Go") from the movie are intact, plus a dozen new numbers. While it doesn't reinvent the film à la The Lion King on Broadway, fans should be satisfied. The sets, costumes, and special effects are dazzling! While the recommended minimum age is 8, younger children with long attention spans (it's two and a half hours) should be okay.
Don't miss Wicked about the backstory of Oz's Wicked Witch. Photo by Joan Marcus
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.
Anastasia transports us from Russia to Paris in the 1920s. Photo by Matthew Murphy
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.
Mean Girls is a smart, funny musical comedy based on the 2004 movie. Photo by Joan Marcus
Tweens and Teens
August Wilson Theatre
It may be a cliche to say that the stage adaptation of Tina Fey's classic comedy Mean Girls is totally fetch, but it's accurate. The high-energy musical follows the movie closely, often verbatim, but the pop-rock songs give added insight into the characters' emotional lives as smart new girl Cady tries to navigate the hierarchy at her high school, which is ruled by the vicious Regina George and her Plastics. The recommended minimum age is 12 and that sounds right since there's a lot of bitchiness and some pretty raunchy sex jokes. However, like the source material, the show has an uplifting moral: even "mean girls" are human. My 12-year-old daughter said this was her favorite Broadway show of the season, hands down. As a fellow mathlete, Cady is her shero.
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Once on This Island is an enchanting musical fable. Photo by Joan Marcus
Once on This Island
Circle in the Square Theatre
A Caribbean-set musical fable, Once on This Island follows a Little Mermaid-style template as a teenage girl risks everything for a boy from another world. Of course, this musical addresses some very real problems, including classism and colorism, and (spoiler alert!) it does not have a happy ending. However, tweenagers will appreciate this grown-up fairy tale, which features joyous Calypso-style songs, a multicultural cast, an immersive set filled with sand and water, and authentic touches like live chickens and a goat! And since it's staged in the round in one of Broadway's most intimate theaters, there are no bad seats.
The Play that Goes Wrong is a laugh-out-loud comedy. Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The Play That Goes Wrong
Closing August 26, 2018
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 is 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.
Everyone gets to be who they wanna be at the Tony-winning Kinky Boots with songs by Cyndi Lauper. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
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 a few years later. 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 line of snazzy 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.
Experience the remarkable true story of a small town that welcomed the world in Come From Away. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Come From Away
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
My daughter 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) might just reaffirm your faith in humanity. The official recommended minimum age is 10.
Expect tough subjects—suicide, bullying, and more—but also searing performances at Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre
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. My daughter was 11 when we went to see it, 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.
Our founding fathers rap for the revolution in the smash hit Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus
Do I really need to tell you about Lin-Manuel Miranda's historical hip-hop blockbuster? Chances are if you have tweens they already know all the lyrics by heart! Yes, it's long (almost three hours), and yes, it deals with some pretty dense subject matter (the American Revolution and the birth of our nation), and yes, there is some profanity. But if you can manage to snag seats, it's an exhilarating and educational experience for ages 10 and up. Even though Miranda and the rest of the original cast left years ago, this is still one of the toughest tickets in town. Lots of theater sites have published Hamilton ticket tips but honestly, the best way to get them is to enter the $10 digital lottery daily (hey, you never know!), mortgage your house to buy seriously marked up resale tickets on Ticketmaster, or sign up for the show's email list to find out when a new block of tickets goes on sale. If you act quickly, you may be able to get seats at the regular face value. Bonus: You can enhance your Hamilton experience by visiting these five NYC sites related to Alexander Hamilton's legacy.
How to Save Money on Broadway Tickets
There are many sites that list discount codes for select 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. The Broadway League also recently launched a hub for families that lists discount offers as well as special kid-friendly extras like pre-show sing-alongs and meal vouchers at participating restaurants.
For last-minute deals, wait at one of NYC's four TKTS by TDF 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 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 2018 season.