If the way to get young people interested in Broadway is to make them feel a part of Broadway, then the first-ever (and first annual) Kids Night On Broadway was an important step in the right direction.
Held Jan. 28 at the Roseland Ballroom space on West 52nd St. in Manhattan, the 4-6:30 PM free main event was shaped as a kind of interactive job fair/Broadway flea market, with representatives from dozens of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows participating at tables scattered throughout the large, tented hall. Designed by Heidi Landesmann with lighting by Paul Gallo, the room had the feel of circus big top, complete with black and white canvas roofing and signs for all the shows hanging beneath.
Marc Weiner, host of Nikelodeon TV's "Weinerville," served as host and band-meister as hundreds of children and parents milled about the circular hall, checking out the various tables. Not surprisingly, the most popular area was devoted to Cats, wherein staffers helped make-up children (and occasionally their folks) like kittens from the show. In a similar vein, Rent offered hand tattoos similar to, but more elaborate than, the ones you might get entering a trendy club. Nearby, long lines also were the rule for Les Miz -- the only show to serve food: lemon or chocolate crepes -- an appropriately francophilic touch. (Outside the main area, pretzels and hot-dogs were the rule.)
The prize for adorable ingenuity had to go to the Sunset Boulevard area, where little boys dressed as Max the butler got to stand in front of a backdrop of the Desmond mansion, hear the clap of a film slate, and pronounce the line, "She is the greatest star of all!"
What did the little girls dressed as Norma say? You guessed it -- "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." On stage, Chicago, Victor/Victoria and Smokey Joe's Cafe offered a little something extra: dance lessons. Kids were taught to tip their hats on "All That Jazz," point their feet in "Le Jazz Hot," and shimmy all over with Smokey Joe's DeLee Lively, in her trademark white spangle dress.
Other stars in attendance included Smokey's Brenda Braxton and heavy-hitters from the Roundabout's upcoming Three Sisters, Amy Irving, Lili Taylor, David Strathairn and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
Nearby, the more family oriented Scapin was represented by the entire cast -- including Bill Irwin and Christopher Evan Welch -- merrily signing autographs.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum allowed kids to have their pictures taken with a cardboard cut-out of Nathan Lane in his "Home Alone" pose, while Bring In `Da Noise, Bring In `Da Funk came in with a box of free drum sticks. Grease! had, a la Coney Island, cardboard cutouts of jocks and cheerleaders where kids could put their faces in the head slots.
A couple of shows asked for creativity from the participants: Once Upon A Mattress offered free tickets to winners of a coloring contest; Neat allowed kids to draw their thoughts and feelings about their families on a giant white paper or write about their experiences on a sheet handed out. The Neat spokesperon told Playbill On-Line the drawing was more popular than the writing, since kids assumed writing would take time away from their wandering about the hall.
After the main fair, the more "grown-up" part of the event moved across the street to the Village Gate 52nd, where copious hors d'oeuvres were served, along with dessert. In his speech, Jed Bernstein, Executive Director of the League Of American Theatres & Producers, hailed the success of the project, noting that 10,000 kids would see a 7 PM show that night. For that night, adults who bought a ticket to a Broadway show could get a second ticket, free, for a child. Bernstein was also given a special citation from the Mayor's Office.
The League's Kit Messick, who assists Kids Night producer Anne Dennin, told Playbill On-Line plans will get underway to shape the Kids Club beginning the week of Feb. 10. "We went into Kids Night with about 4,500 in the Club, so if you add the 10,000 estimated who took part, that's a starting number of nearly 15,000." Messick also says a rough estimate of 2,000 peoople attended the Kids Night festivities at Roseland.
Though First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, honorary chairperson of the event, did not appear at the convocation, actress Marlo Thomas did (she also appeared at the initial press conference announcing Kids Night), lauding the importance of bringing young people to the theatre.
In an e-mail to Playbill On-Line, one parent wrote of the Kids Night experience: "This is just a note to tell you that Kids Night on Broadway was terrific and should be held at least once each year. My daughter and I are regular theater goers but probably would not have gone to see Sunset Blvd without the 2-for-1 offer. And, as everyone should see Elaine Paige at least once in their lives, everyone should go to Sardi's at least once. So, thanks to the promotional tie-in with KNoB, my daughter was treated to dinner there. By the way, the people at the Hippodrome garage handed out lollipops as one exited. The gesture was so appropriate to the evening: happy and child-filled."
For more information on Kids Night On Broadway and its programs -- including the Only Broadway For Kids Club -- call the League's Broadway Line at (212) 563-BWAY.
-- By David Lefkowitz