Taking my four year old to her first Broadway show

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Our kids love the original movie version of “Annie”, and since my wife is a huge Carol Burnett fan, we watch it often. If you haven’t seen it, there’s more to it than just “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life.” All the numbers are catchy.  My daughters both do fantastic renditions of Miss Hannigan’s “Little Girls.”

I do have two points to mention for parents sharing this classic with younger kids:

1) “Dumb dog, why are you following me,” is not a lyric we want the kids singing to every dog they see on the street. “Dumb,” isn’t an adjective we want them using at all, but the song is infectious. I find myself humming it when I see a dog now.

2) There are a few, “G*d D@mmits,” uttered in the last act. Fair warning in case this is a deal breaker for you.

That being said, “Annie” is a certified hit at our house. Especially for my older daughter, Tabitha, who is already showing signs of being bitten by the musical theatre bug.

Most Broadway shows post signage saying, “no children under four permitted in the theatre,” but with Tabby only a month away from her fourth birthday, and “Annie” on Broadway closing on January 5th, it was now or never to make this her first Broadway show.

Now my wife, Chirstin, and I just had to make it happen.

From the day we made the decision, through the end of its run, the show was sold out. Even the $159 Orchestra seats were sold out, which were way beyond what we could risk on this Broadway experiment. We didn’t know if she would like it, or even be willing to sit quietly in the theatre for two-and-a-half hours.

DSCN0829Most Broadway shows offer some sort of a reduced price; last minute options for seeing the show. Playbill.com keeps an excellent running list of these Rush, Lottery and Standing Room Only policies, if you’re interested in trying to get some of these discounted seats.

The specific policy for “Annie” was a General Rush. When the box office opened in the morning, they would sell the first row of seats and the side boxes for $40 each on a first-come-first-serve basis. Eighty bucks is still a lot of money for us, but much more realistic than $318. The next morning, I woke up early and took the train to Times Square to try my luck at the box office. I arrived at 8:00 A.M., two hours before the box office would open, and joined the line already forming. I ended up getting the last front row pair on the aisle.

When we got home, I did a little coaching with Tabitha. She knew that she was getting a special experience going to a Broadway show at age 3 and 11/12ths and that I had to wait until I was eighteen years old before I got to see one. I didn’t want anything to be a surprise that might take this experience from fun to scary, so I let her know  that every seat would have someone in it, and that the lights would go out before the show starts but not to worry, the lights on stage would turn on right after. I told her that we weren’t allowed to talk during the performance but told her that we should clap after every song, it’s how you say thank you in the theatre when someone sings you something.

This ended up being the most valuable thing that came from our pre-show talk. Tabby took this job very seriously and it made her feel like a Broadway insider who knew exactly what was expected of her. This one little nugget of theatre etiquette was what cemented the rest into place. After the opening number, I leaned over and whispered, “Can you see? Do you want to be boosted up more?” She whispered back, “There’s no talking in the theatre, Daddy.”

After that, I let her enjoy the show.

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Our preshow pic… photo-bombed by the Annie doll one row back.

Sitting in the front row has its pros and cons. These seats aren’t perfect, but despite their flaws, the most important thing is that you are in the theatre at an affordable price! Here’s a few noteworthy points about the front row.

1) If you are a shorter person, these seats are partial view.  As you won’t be able to see over the lip of the stage, you’ll miss things that happen close to the ground; i.e., an orphan sitting on the floor singing, “Maybe.” Most theaters, especially those playing to a child’s fair, offer booster seats, which help a great deal.  It’s worth arriving a few minutes early to make sure you get one.

2) There is a world of difference between the front row and the second. The people behind us left at intermission and we were able to move back a row. We couldn’t believe how much more of the stage we could see with just one row between us and the stage. If the theatre offers the first two rows as part of its Rush, and you’re early enough in the line to have a choice, opt for the second row.

3) The first row is also the closest to the Orchestra Pit. I was worried that it would be very loud but found that not to be the case. What it did offer was a peek at the Orchestra warming up before the show, and an unobstructed view of the conductor as he directed the Overture. Two neat bonus experiences we might not have gotten with different seats.

4) When you’re in the first row, the actors can see you as well. One of the shanty town hobos waved to Tabitha during their big dance number. If you’re out there far-stage-left-shanty-hobo,  you made a little girl’s day!

If I could have changed one thing about the entire experience, I wouldn’t have worried so much. I worried that Tabby would be upset that she couldn’t see the whole stage.  I worried that this production wouldn’t live up to the movie. She sat quietly and watched the entire thing and I worried that she wasn’t having fun.

And then I remembered my first experience as an eighteen year old who had managed to scrape together enough money to sit in the last row behind a pole for a performance of the “Scarlet Pimpernel.” Did I care about my terrible seat? No. I quietly watched the entire show, completely awed by the experience of seeing live theatre at a grand scale for the first time. On the subway home, Tabby asked if we could go again.