So far this season we've shared the museum exhibits and family concerts that we're most looking forward to checking out with our kids. Now we're taking a look at the family shows making their debut this winter.
While spring is traditionally when NYC stages heat up—it's when London smash Matilda the Musical hits Broadway and the New York Children's Theater Festival returns for a second year—there are still some pretty cool sounding shows debuting this winter, including musicals based on popular kids' books like Bunnicula and The Stinky Cheese Man, a circus extravaganza starring Bello the clown and a bunch of inexpensive puppet shows perfect for preschoolers with short attention spans. Here are the top 11 family shows for NYC kids this winter.
Show Way – Upper West Side
Through Sunday, March 3. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Vital Children's Theatre, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, fourth floor
Ages 7 and up
Up until now, Vital Children's Theatre has mainly presented musicals for little kids, usually based on popular "girlie" picture books. (See Fancy Nancy, Angelina Ballerina and Pinkalicious.) But now the company is moving beyond its comfort zone with Show Way, which is aimed at older children who are (presumably) no longer obsessed with ballet, glamor or the color pink. Based on Jacqueline Woodson's Newbery Honor-winning book, the musical introduces school-age kids to black culture and history, including complicated subjects like slavery and the struggle for civil rights, as an African-American tween encounters her ancestors on a magical journey into the past. The show's been playing since January and we haven't had a chance to see it yet but we definitely plan to go sometime this February, the perfect time since it is Black History Month.
The Prince & the Magic Flute – Park Slope
Through Sunday, March 24. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
PuppetWorks, 338 Sixth Avenue at 4th Street
$9 for adults, $8 for children
Ages 3 and up
Nicolas Coppola's handcrafted wooden marionettes are usually the stars of all PupperWorks productions, but in this show they get a little competition from Mozart's glorious music. Don't worry, it's not the whole opera. Instead, its an hour-long adaptation of the tale about a lovesick prince featuring songs based on the original score.
Pippi – Upper West Side
Through Sunday, June 23. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, enter at 79th Street and Central Park West
$8 for adults, $5 for children under 12
Ages 3 and up
Central Park's puppet theater revives its hit show based on the classic Pippi Longstocking tales. Like all of the troupe's productions, it features handmade marionettes and a fresh take on familiar stories, and kids are invited to sit right in front on a bench by the stage. A great experience for young or first-time theatergoers.
Bunnicula! A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery – Union Square
Saturday, February 9-Sunday, April 14. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street between Union Square Park East and Irving Place
$45, however opening weekend you can get $20 tickets 20 minutes before showtime courtesy of 20at20.
My daughter and I are seeing this show on opening day, so our full review will come later. But we have high hopes for this musicalization of the popular children’s book series by Deborah and James Howe, about a beloved pet rabbit who just may be the cutest and cuddliest vampire ever known. The show was adapted by Tony Award nominated playwright Charles Busch (who also happens to be a legendary drag artist!) and it was originally produced by lauded family theater troupe TheatreWorksUSA, so I suspect Bunnicula will be one of those productions that's enjoyable for kids and grown-ups.
Grug – Midtown West
Wednesday, February 20-Sunday, March 17. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
New 42nd Street Studios, 229 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Parents of young children are always asking at what age they can start taking them to theater. Really, there is no simple answer to that. It depends on the child's temperament, but even more so on the specific show. That's why I love that the New Victory always has at least one show per season that's aimed at first-time theatergoers. As such, the puppet show Grug is short (just 45 minutes, no intermission), takes place in a small studio instead of on a big stage, and the audience sits on pillows on the floor. It's simple and eye-catching too, as a huggable haystack tends to his home and garden. While the show is based on a series of popular Australian picture books, you don't need to be familiar with them to get the plot. It's really about sharing the magic of live theater with your tots, and there's even an interactive dance party at the end.
Avner the Eccentric in Exceptions to Gravity – Tribeca
Saturday, March 1-Sunday, March 24: Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 4pm
Canal Park Playhouse, 508 Canal Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets
Ages 3 and up
This small Tribeca theater had a tough time last fall due to Hurricane Sandy. But it recently reopened and its weekend family matinees are back in business. The whole place has an authentic old-timey feel (probably because the building dates back to 1828!), which makes it the perfect venue for Avner the Eccentric, a vaudevillian clown who looks like he stepped out of a time machine. Expect lots of silly silent humor and crazy feats accessible to almost any age.
Guess How Much I Love You? & I Love My Little Storybook – Greenwich Village
Saturday, March 2 at 11am and 2pm
NYU Skirball Center, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South
Ages 3 and up
I admit I have mixed feelings about this particular theater when seeing a show meant for young children. It's big and depending on where you sit, you may feel pretty far away from the stage. Luckily, the large-scale puppet productions by the awesome Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia are quite spectacular, so even if you're in that last row you get an eyeful. These short shows are based on a pair of beloved picture books illustrated by Anita Jeram. The first is a simple tale about parent-child love, as a kid keeps asking his daddy how much he loves him. The second celebrates the power of imagination as a storybook comes to life before a young reader's eyes. The fantastical imagery is sure to be a hit with young theatergoers.
Sleeping Beauty – Midwood
Sunday, March 10 at 2pm
Brooklyn Center Performing Arts Complex, Walt Whitman Theatre, Campus Road and Hillel Place
Ages 4 and up
Part of the Brooklyn Center's Target Storybook Series, American Family Theater's adaptation of the classic tale sure is priced right: Just $7 per ticket. If your kid needs a fairytale fix it's certainly a lot less expensive than seeing Cinderella on Broadway.
Bello Mania – Midtown West
Friday, March 15-Sunday, March 31. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
The New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Ages 4 and up
If you're a circus fan, you very well may have seen Bello Nock, the clown with the gravity-defying hair. Born to a circus family, Bello started his career when he was just six-years-old and has spent years touring with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Big Apple Circus and other famous troupes all over the world. My daughter and I have seen him twice and what makes him unique is that, not only is his schtick very, very funny, he's able to perform amazing acrobatic feats on the trampoline, the high wire and more. This 70-minute show is the first one he's ever produced himself, and it features a few of his signature acts, plus new routines and a bunch of his performing pals, including an adorable dog doing tricks. It sounds like a great alternative to the over-the-top Ringling spectacles and since its run coincides with spring break, there are even public weekday performances.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales – Chelsea
Saturday, March 23-Sunday, April 7: Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30am
Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
$20 for adults, $10 for children
Ages 5 and up
My daughter and I are really looking forward to this one because the last time Atlantic for Kids musicalized a book by author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith, we absolutely loved the show. Scieszka is a master at writing clever parodies of classic tales, and this show sends up "Cinderella," "Rumplestiltskin" and "The Ugly Duckling" so you see the characters in a whole new hilarious light. Plus Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados, who has a long history with the company, is directing and writing the music.
Morgan's Journey – Upper West Side
Saturday, March 23 at 11am
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street
&25 for adults, $15 for children
Symphony Space's Just Kidding family performance series tends to be pretty music-centric. However, there's some theater thrown in there, too, like this solo clown show, which happens to be the longest touring theatrical production in Canadian history. Audiences are treated to Morgan's life story, from birth to old age, and help him make discoveries along the way.
Find out about other great things to do with kids this season in our Winter Fun Guide.