Taking Young Children to the Theatre

Taking Young Children to the Theatre ON THE TOWN

ON THE TOWN

The New York summer stage is set for and with children of all ages‹it's the ideal time to introduce a young audience to the joys of theatre. Like most family activities, the more you plan, the better your chance for success.

A child under the age of five is generally not going to be interested in an extended performance. "When a child can sit through a full-length video, he is old enough for theatre," explains Robert Viagas, managing editor of Playbill On-Line and father of two. In fact, his son Benjamin attended his first Broadway show at the age of three. Some other tips from Viagas: (1) Select musicals over plays: "Children love shows with songs and music but tend to have less patience for dialogue." (2) Introduce the songs in advance. (3) Make the show an event by dressing up. "My son always wears a tie and his theatre shoes," says Viagas. (4) Go out to eat. (Suggestion: The Official All Star Cafe in Times Square should be a hit; 212-840-TEAM.) Also, most theatres offer child booster seats. Just ask an usher.

There are many reasons to introduce your children to theatre this season, and The King and I at the St. James Theatre exemplifies them all. The music is light and tuneful, the story is easy to follow, the sets dazzle, and the cast (which includes 14 children) contains a kaleidoscope of characters and costumes. The themes explored, including slavery, Western vs. Eastern culture and the growing prominence of women, expose a fertile mind to issues not readily on exhibit elsewhere (212-307-4100).

Big at the Shubert Theatre brims with toys, songs, dance and 11 talented young actors. This adventure has everything to supply a child's attention and inspire his imagination (212-239-6200).

After the show discuss the experience with your children carefully noting what they like and dislike. This experience can help develop a theatre epicurean, and begin a long, rewarding romance with the stage. . . Looking for the right show for your family? Try Playbill On-Line (www.playbill.com). THE NEW VICTORY THEATRE

Many theatres are exclusive showcases of children's productions, such as The New Victory Theatre on West 42nd Street. New York's oldest active theatre was reopened this past December and is committed to its status as "the first performing arts theatre for youth and family audiences." The theatre offers a special Membership Program to families for just $25 a year. For more information call (212) 564-4222.

Coming in September is Jim Henson's International Festival of Puppet Theatre, which will showcase more than 369 puppets, the largest assemblage of puppet troupes ever presented in New York. For ticket information, call 212-239-6200 (as of Sept. 1); New Victory Theatre Members can call now at 212-382-4020.

-- By Jennifer Lanter