The spring is always a great time for family theater, but this season looks particularly exciting. There are page-to-stage adaptations of cool kid lit (The Little Red Fish for toddlers and Seedfolks for tweens); wordless spectacles to captivate all ages (clown show Air Play and underwater spectacle Symphonie Fantastique); and Lincoln Center's Big Umbrella Festival, the first-ever monthlong performance fest for children on the autism spectrum.
While on Broadway it's all Frozen, Harry Potter, and Mean Girls mania, there's no need to shell out big bucks to give your kids a memorable live entertainment experience in NYC. Most of the 17 shows we're spotlighting are just $25—or less—per ticket.
Click through to our listings for all the details, including price, complete schedule, and location.
Symphonie Fantastique — Soho
Thursday, March 29–Sunday, September 2
Ages 8 and older
Years before he started working on Broadway blockbusters (Thing in The Addams Family, those Willy Wonka Oompa Loompas), puppeteer Basil Twist was revolutionizing his chosen art form by performing quirky downtown shows aimed at adults, not children. This spring, he remounts his breakthrough production Symphonie Fantastique at the HERE Arts Center where it began. While it's not aimed at families, school-age kids will likely be just as mesmerized by this abstract puppet piece as grown-ups. Set to Hector Berlioz's hourlong 19th-century composition of the same name, Symphonie Fantastique takes place in a 1,000-gallon water tank in which puppeteers turn feathers, glitter, mirrors, dyes, overhead projections, and other colorful items into a trippy aquatic world. Can't picture it? Check out the video above for a peek at this singular experience. I saw this hard-to-describe show twice two decades ago and I can't wait to share it with my tween.
Air Play is a truly unique show filled with ballons, umbrellas, scarves and more magic at the New Victory Theater. Photo by Florence Montmare
Air Play — Midtown West
Friday, March 30–Sunday, April 15
Ages 5 and older
Married clowns the Acrobuffos bring their delightful pranks and pratfalls to the New Victory Theater in a show that's full of hot air—literally. The duo uses air pressure to launch fabric, glitter, umbrellas, and balloons up to the roof, and then lets gravity do its thing. As they conjure striking visuals and elicit belly laughs, they also demonstrate the rules of physics. Air may be invisible but you can definitely see its power.
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The Little Red Fish is a sweet story about a beloved pet inspired by the picture book of the same name. Photo courtesy of Puppet Kitchen by Scott Olinger
The Little Red Fish — Midtown West
Saturday, April 7–Sunday, April 29
Based on the popular picture book by Taeeun Yoo, The Little Red Fish is an intriguing collaboration between the venerable New York City Children's Theater and the artists at Puppet Kitchen, who helped craft the massive creatures featured in the long-running Very Hungry Caterpillar show. When Jeje's pet fish disappears into a book at the library, he must dive into the pages to retrieve his slippery pal. At just 50-minutes, this easy-to-follow adventure is a great option for first-time theatergoers.
Light Show is specifically geared for children on the autism spectrum. Photo by Neal Houghton
Light Show — Lincoln Square
Saturday, April 14–Sunday, April 22
Children on the autism spectrum ages 3 and older
Part of Lincoln Center's groundbreaking Big Umbrella Festival: a monthlong fest featuring performances for children on the autism spectrum and their families. This multisensory experience comes from England's Oily Cart theater company, which has been creating shows for young audiences with special needs for three decades. Marvel as a white space magically transforms into a sunny beach paradise and then a cool starry evening. Note that this is a very intimate experience, so seating is extremely limited! Advance tickets are a must.
Up and Away is an immersive experience for children on the autism spectrum. Photo by Alexis Buatti-Ramos
Up and Away — Lincoln Square
Saturday, April 14–Sunday, May 6
Children on the autism spectrum ages 5 and older
Another Big Umbrella Festival offering. Loosely inspired by Around the World in 80 Days, this immersive experience for children on the autism spectrum was devised by the boundary-pushing Trusty Sidekick Theater Company. A maximum of eight kids (with up to two adult caregivers) join the Fogg Family Balloon Society on a multisensory ride through the sky featuring puppets, live music, and one-on-one interactive activities. This show previously played at Lincoln Center Kids in 2015 and every single performance sold out, so advance tickets are a must.
Doktor Kaboom's Look Out! Science Is Coming! plays the Queens Theatre in April. Photo courtesy of the venue
Doktor Kaboom's Look Out! Science Is Coming! — Corona, Queens
Sunday, April 15
Science becomes explosive entertainment as over-the-top German physicist Doktor Kaboom demonstrates the wonders of his chosen field at the Queens Theatre. Get ready for a series of awesome experiments, all delivered with Kaboom's kooky comedic flair.
How I Became a Pirate — Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn
Saturday, April 21
Based on Melinda Long's picture book of the same name, this rollicking musical from Dallas Children's Theater follows the adventures of a young boy who sails off with a band of goofy pirates. It's perfect for swashbuckling-obsessed tots and part of Kingsborough Community College's On Stage at Kingsborough series, which means you can hit nearby Manhattan Beach afterward to play pirate!
Don Quixote Takes New York — East Village
Saturday, April 21–Sunday, May 6
Ages 4 and older
Miguel de Cervantes' iconic tale gets a funky family-friendly makeover at La MaMa Kids as Don Quixote and his pal Sancho Panza wander the five boroughs on a quest to save humanity from the evil forces of the Orange Knight. Subtle it's not, but oversize puppets, fanciful dances, and toe-tapping music keep the tone light as kids (and parents!) are reminded that no dream is impossible and no fear insurmountable.
Step Afrika! — Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Saturday, April 28
Ages 3 and older
Tap your toes to this percussive performance by Step Afrika!, the world's first professional dance troupe specializing in stepping. The style came out of African-American fraternities and sororities, and features complicated patterns of stomps, kicks, and claps as the dancers use their bodies as instruments. You won't be able to sit still.
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Knock! from South Africa invites preschoolers on a virtual forest adventure. Photo by Mark Wessels
Knock! — Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Saturday, April 28–Sunday, May 6
Aimed at the preschool set, this interactive show at BAMkids comes from South Africa's Magnet Theatre. Sing and follow along with the performers as they explore a virtual forest, where exotic animals and captivating stories magically come to life. The only boundaries are the limits of your imagination. All performances include a pre-show workshop and a post-show activity.
Oddysea conjures an undersea wonderland for children on the autism spectrum. Photo by Jessica Wyld
Oddysea — Lincoln Square
Saturday, April 28–Sunday, May 6
Children on the autism spectrum ages 3 and older
Another Big Umbrella Festival offering. Australia's Sensorium Theatre conjures a multisensory undersea world, where Crab and Turtle’s aquatic adventures come alive through touch, smell, taste, live music, and eye-popping visuals. Note that this is a very intimate experience, so seating is extremely limited! Advance tickets are a must.
Geniuses — Chelsea
Saturday, April 28–Sunday, May 20
What can kids with high IQs learn from their less brilliant peers? A lot as it turns out in this TADA! Youth Theater musical about two regular kids infiltrating an elite private school. The book and lyrics are written by celebrated children's book author Jon Agee (Terrific, Milo's Hat Trick, Little Santa), and the catchy tunes are courtesy of Dan Feigelson. As with all TADA! productions, Geniuses stars talented NYC-area tykes ages 8 to 18, and features relatable themes and a positive, non-preachy story line.
Cleveland is the setting for Seedfolks at the New Victory. Photo by Dan Norman Images
Seedfolks — Midtown West
Friday, May 4–Friday, May 11
Ages 8 and older
A multicultural Cleveland neighborhood comes to life in this solo show based on Paul Fleischman's eponymous book. Sonja Parks channels 14 diverse characters in a tour-de-force performance at the New Victory Theater. As these disparate folks come together to make a garden, a community grows and blossoms.
Tetris — Lincoln Square
Saturday, May 19–Sunday, May 20
As the title implies, this Lincoln Center Kids show features a quartet of dancers engaging in human Tetris. Of course the addictive video game requires players to fit geometric shapes together. People's bodies aren't quite so stackable, but they are more malleable! Don't try this at home, parents.
Show Up, Kids! — East Village
Saturday, May 19–Sunday, July 1
Improviser Peter Michael Marino devises an hourlong comedy on the spot just for kids! But he can't do it without their help. My tween and I saw and loved the adult version of Marino's award-winning autobiographical solo show, which turns the genre on its head by making it about the spectators, too. With this family edition at the Kraine Theater he promises even more audience input as the children help him write, direct, and even design the production. No sitting on the sidelines here; participation is required.
You'll want to get up and dance at Rennie Harris: Funkedified. Photo by J. Harris
Rennie Harris: Funkedified — Midtown West
Friday, June 1–Sunday, June 10
Ages 9 and older
Pioneering hip-hop dancer/choreographer Rennie Harris uses the funk-filled soundtrack of his youth to create an electric performance that will make New Victory Theater audiences want to get on up! Popping, locking, and grooving to the sounds of a live band, his Puremovement dancers defy gravity and physics as their bodies seem to do the impossible.
Explore the world beneath your feet in Grass at Lincoln Center Kids. Photo by Zoe Manders
Grass — Lincoln Square
Saturday, June 2–Sunday, June 3
Did you know that there's a world of wonder beneath your feet? Preschoolers will make that amazing discovering at this Lincoln Center Kids show, in which worms, slugs, snails, ants, and other grass inhabitants take center stage via puppetry and projections.
All photos courtesy of the productions