"Theatre is a family affair," says Julie Andrews. That will be especially true on Jan. 30 and 31 with the 11th annual Kids' Night on Broadway, when shows will offer a free ticket to each child (ages 6 to 18) accompanied by a paying adult. Kids' Night is presented by the League of American Theatres and Producers in association with Madame Tussauds, The New York Times, WNBC-TV and Theatre Development Fund. Andrews and daughter Emma Walton Hamilton are the event's national ambassadors.
The 2007 spotlight is on Autism Speaks, the organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the developmental disability. "Since Kids' Night is about kids," says League executive director Charlotte St. Martin, "Autism Speaks is a natural partner. A staggering one out of 166 kids deals with the disease."
Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright have a grandson with autism. Mr. Wright is vice chairman of GE and chairman and CEO of NBC Universal. "The League applauds the Wrights and NBC," says St. Martin, "in bringing awareness that, with early diagnosis, parents can find significant help for affected children." Information on Autism Speaks will be included in event materials and on the League website.
Julie Andrews, who came from a theatrical family and started her career at age nine, says Kids' Night "is about exposing young people to the enchantment of theatre. Emma and I are thrilled to be associated [with it], especially to help raise public consciousness about autism." The two have collaborated as the authors of many best-selling children's books, some illustrated by Emma's dad, award-winning theatre designer Tony Walton. "Our 16th, 'Thanks To You,'" reports Hamilton, "is about wisdoms exchanged between mother and child" and is due in May. Their "The Great American Mousical" underscores the connection between young people and Broadway.
Hamilton couldn't help being exposed to theatre as a child. "I'm still dazzled by all the backstage magic," says the former actress, who's a founder [with Sybil Burton] of Sag Harbor, New York's Bay Street Theatre, where she is director of education and programming for young audiences.
Last season, children and teens accounted for 1.2 million tickets sold in New York alone. And since its inception, over 200,000 people have participated in Kids' Night. The response to this year's event has been enormous, with 20,000 tickets sold to 23 musicals and plays - one of the largest sales of tickets and largest lineup of shows ever.
A special souvenir will be a Playbill written by kids through the auspices of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). And kicking off Kids' Night is Madame Tussauds' Fan Festival on the afternoons of the 30th and 31st, with performances, autograph booths, makeup stations, dance lessons and free tours.
"Our primary mission," concludes St. Martin, "is spreading the news that Broadway is relevant and accessible." It's working!