Broadway: Great Family Travel?

Last night we finally got around to watching the Tony awards after a busy few days of work. One benefit of being a fan of musical theatre is that you probably won’t have a problem with co-workers discussing the Tony Award results at work the next day or big headline spoilers in your newsfeed if you can’t watch the awards live. For the most part, I’m actually not that interested in other awards shows like the Oscars, with otherwise wonderful actors doing strangely wooden monologues and way more discussion of everyone’s clothing choices than their actual performances. But with the Tony’s it’s all about the show. It’s like Broadway knows it’s their one chance to get a few minutes of the mainstream media’s attention and they’re going to pull out all the stops and give you a performance to remember.

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Another reason I like to watch the Tony’s is that while I love musical theatre, I don’t really keep up with what’s new and current. I love the classics, but don’t tend to keep current with what’s open and playing, or touring, at any given time. So watching the Tony Awards gives me a great chance to see a “highlight reel” of what’s new on Broadway. Last year, for example, we knew we were going to New York after Christmas and we watched the awards with an eye on what we would want to see on that trip. I actually had very little interest in seeing Matilda until I saw the montage on the Tony Awards show and it ended up being a favourite of mine. Seeing the clip from Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is what gave me the idea to take my daughter to her first Broadway show as well.

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Going to New York used to be a very different trip as a single adult or as a couple without kids. My husband used to go for a few nights at a time and get in two shows a day while he was there. When I was working in a hospital in Connecticut I would take the one hour trip on the commuter train on my days off, buy tickets at the half price booth in the morning, go to a museum all day then see my show and arrive back home well after midnight. I remember another trip in 1999 a year after the Lion King opened when it was completely sold out every single night. I got up at six am to line up outside the theatre for one of the 30 student tickets that was released every morning at ten. Totally worth it by the way.

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Going to New York with small children is a very different ballgame. Like waiting four hours outside a box office for the hottest tickets in town, it can be challenging, but totally worth it. First of all, only a small fraction of the shows on Broadway are appropriate for young kids. I noticed that all the theatres we went to had a notice saying that children under four were not permitted, even for the totally “G” rated Cinderella. I guess this is the theatres’ way of trying to reduce the number of crying babies and loud toddlers disturbing other patrons and I’m totally on board with that, but it does mean that even if you have the world’s best behaved three year old, you may be out of luck. Once a your kids are over four, though, there are some great options. My four year old, for example was absolutely enchanted with Cinderella and watching her watch the show was one of the highlights of my trip.

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Of course, there’s a lot more to deciding whether your child is ready to see a production than if she can sit still through the show. Most parents would think twice about taking their kids to see a show called Kinky Boots, but anyone who’s seen Avenue Q would also know that just because something looks like a kid friendly show doesn’t mean it is! One great resource for planning a Broadway trip with the kids is Broadway.com. Each show has a section called, “Should I see it?’ and it has detailed information for parents about the age appropriateness of each show such as foul language, sexual content and frightening scenes as well as age recommendations for viewers. They even have a whole section highlighting kid friendly shows.

Definitely not the Muppets!

Definitely not the Muppets!

Next you have to decide if you want to go all the way to New York just to see Annie and The Lion King, or if you’re going to try to find a way to ditch the kids and see something on your own. When we went we first looked into trying to find a babysitter. We found out that there were some very good professional nanny services that were geared to tourists and any major hotel concierge could set you up. It’s not a cheap option at $25-30 per hour with a four hour minimum and a surcharge after 10 pm, but it still would be cheaper than buying tickets for the kids. It was a viable option, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and go with the old “divide and conquer” strategy. We had three nights in the city, so I went out to a show on my own on one night and my husband went out the other two. Since I also got to see the matinee with my daughter our first day there, everything worked out evenly. For me, the hardest part of our plan was not being able to talk about the show I’d just seen until my husband had a chance to see it the next day.

Oh, and one last tip on going to Broadway with the kids: prepare to drop a fortune on tickets. I’ve looked for ways to save on tickets and the options are few and far between. And when you’re buying tickets for the whole family it can get especially painful. There is a promotion called Kids on Broadway where kids can get free tickets to certain shows, but it’s only for a week in February, so that limits it’s usefulness for travelers. Another site I’ve found is Mousesavers.com which offers some discounted tickets for the Disney shows during the off season. There’s also the same day half price booths, but there’s no guarantee of getting the show you want and I don’t want to spend my precious time in New York waiting in a long line. So if anyone knows of any other ways to get discounts on Broadway tickets I’d love to hear about it!

And here’s last years Tony opening number starring Neil Patrick Harris, just for fun.

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