I often feel the resident New York City local mom whose inbox and DMs are filled with requests for “what Broadway show should I take my kids to?” And I don’t mind a bit. With two kids obsessed with musical theater, all of us lucky enough to live a few a few short subway stops from Times Square, I get to see a whole lot of shows; sometimes with kids, sometimes with friends, sometimes with my partner or even my own mom.
And with the 2019 Tony Award nominees announced today, I thought I’d take a minute to share my top recommendations for Broadways shows to see with your older kids, tweens and teens.
Note that I’m basically sticking with the newer 2018 Broadway shows as well as the 2019 Broadway shows, and skipping now classic options like Hamilton, Wicked and Lion King, because presumably you already know about them, or have seen them.
I’m also passing on the kiddie smash movie hits remade as Broadway musicals (with the notable exception of Julie Taymor’s Lion King) because…eh. I’m not inclined to pay $57.50 a piece for a balcony seat to Disney on
Ice Broadway. That’s my own bias. I admit it.
Hopefully you’ll see that these are shows everyone in the family will enjoy. Because if you’re going to spend Broadway prices, you should all love it.
Top photo: Waiting for the curtain at Be More Chill | © Liz Gumbinner
All other photos © their respective productions
The best new Broadway shows to see with your older kids and teens
The following are the Broadway shows I’ve personally loved — or those shows I hear from trusted sources that I’ll love when I can save enough to see them! — and I think all are great to see with your older kids, whether they’re seasoned Broadway fans or just getting to know musicals beyond Hamilton.
I promise, no spoilers here.
In no particular order…
I caught Beetlejuice in previews before it opened last week and as a fan of the original movie, I was skeptical. And yet it way way surpassed my expectations.
While some shows, however enjoyable, often adapt movies and transplant them nearly word-for-word onto a stage and add some songs (*ahem* School of Rock, sorry not sorry), Beetlejuice keeps all the details fans love and remember about the 1988 Michael Keaton film (oh lord, was it really 1988?) while totally reworking it for modern sensibilities.
The sets are extraordinary, every single role is perfectly cast — 17-year-old Sophia Caruso is mindblowing as Lydia but I’m not sure I can pick a favorite performance — and I would run-don’t-walk to grab tickets and see the original cast.
To be clear, parents: This show is wildly irreverent. Beetlejuice opens with the line, “This is a show about death!” And it is. There are a few well-placed F-bombs, lots of double entendres that have greatly expanded my sixth-grader’s vocabulary, and an entire song about the creepy child marriage subplot between Lydia and Beetlejuice. I mean, the title character remains, as always, a creeper, but he’s humorously self-referential about it now so we don’t feel gross about it.(“Don’t worry, it’s a green card thing!”)
Let’s just say there’s nothing here your fifth-grader probably hasn’t heard before, and it’s so couched in spectacle and humor, that I don’t hesitate to recommend it at all.
It’s not a perfect show, but it’s outrageously fun, it’s been nominated for Best Musical, and it will keep you smiling for 2.5 hours.
You cannot have a tween or teen theater lover and skip Mean Girls on Broadway, partly because they will torment you for life about it.
I finally saw it this past month and now understand the obsession — the movie is perfectly adapted for theater, the songs are delicious, the actors are outstanding, and the book is written with impeccably classic story structure for a very satisfying, enjoyable journey, even if you know every word of the film by heaart.
I also love the updates that make the show more 2019 than 2004. Like in the song Stop, a funny and astute warning for teens to think before doing stupid things, Karen warns about sending nude photos to impress a boy because they’ll end up all over the internet. After the think it over and stop! chorus, she’s added the line: “…or maybe we should be teaching boys not to do that in the first place?”
Having earned 12 Tony nominations in 2018 but no wins, Mean Girls Broadway was robbed, big time. But it will outlast a lot of the other shows, because fan favorites always do.
When I first saw The Prom, I remember thinking that it was fun, it was charming, it was enjoyable, and it was important for its LGBTQ representation — but I imagined its appeal was limited. I was wrong! Not only was it just nominated for 7 Tony awards including Best Musical, but it’s become a breakout success with fans.
You may know that The Prom is about a sweet, normal high school girl in a bigoted midwestern community who isn’t allowed to attend her prom with her girlfriend. But! What makes this work is that it blends that very modern plot line with a more classically old school, zany, madcap Broadway musical comedy storyline in which three fading Broadway actors decide to take on her plight on as their personal “cause” (they learned about it because it was trending on Twitter) in order to get some good press for themselves.
They’ll show those small-town, backwards, Footloose-ian (is that a word?) townies living in Pence Land just what 2019 values are about!
Or…not. Maybe they’re the ones with something to learn.
The dancing is great, the music is wonderful, and the show balances the broadly drawn characters and the more realistic ones so nicely. It’s just such a happy show about love, acceptance, and living your authentic self — whether you’re gay, straight, rural, urban, young, old…or older than your Playbill bio would indicate.
If you haven’t heard of Be More Chill, you are not the parent of a teen. That, or they’re keeping it from you.
The cult breakout hit of 2018 has been described as Dear Evan Hansen meets the wacky sci-fi of Little Shop of Horrors, with some John Hughes thrown in. In a nutshell: a self-proclaimed “loser, geek, whatever” homebody gamer swallows a super-quantum processor in the form of a pill (a “Squip”) that implants in his brain and tells him how to behave and how to be cool. Or really, how to…be more chill.
Just know to expect plenty of jokes about 90s and 2000s pop culture, teen angst, masturbation, video games, and weed.
To learn more, you can read my daughter’s own words about why Be More Chill is so meaningful to teens like her. Or just listen to the wildly catchy Be More Chill soundtrack, which deservedly earned Joe Iconis a Tony nom for Best Original Score this year.
Michael in the Bathroom, is the breakout fan favorite song (I sobbed the first time I heard it), or listen to the very funny The Smartphone Hour, a nod to Bye Bye Birdie’s “The Telephone Hour” about a house party gone terribly wrong.
I will say that Be More Chill is extremely offbeat, if you hadn’t guessed by now, so it’s probably not for theater-goers who gravitate more to My Fair Lady or Carousel. Critics are split on it. But Be More Chill fans don’t care one bit.
The show’s social media fandom is insane. Kids have flown in from around the world just to see it. The Stage Door after each performance is like its own second performance, and not to be missed. It’s also very hard to get tickets. So that should tell you something.
Oh, and I like it, and I’ve seen it three times.
I have yet to see Tootsie on Broadway so I can’t speak to it personally. But everyone I know and trust has simply adored the show, making it the next musical I promise we’d see as a family. It just earned 11 Tony nominations including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score, and plenty of acting nods including Santino Fontana for Best Actor.
No, not Best Actress. Smart alec.
Though Sarah Stiles (I love her on Billions!) and Lilli Coper – who I adored as Sandy in Spongebob the Musical last year — were both nominated.
Like the other adapted-from-a-film Broadway musicals here (and hey, I just realized this is the second one that originally starred Geena Davis!), this one is updated as well, changing Michael Dorsey’s soap opera job into a satirical Broadway musical. It’s also been updated for the #metoo era — like so many others here. Which really reminds me how much we’ve all evolved.
For what it’s worth, I just watched the original 1982 Dustin Hoffman film with my kids and they loved it; it’s remarkable how well it holds up. In fact, this is a perfect time to bring to Broadway a story about how tough life can be for women, and how men never can truly see it — until they become a woman themselves. Or dress like one.
This is a dark production. And yet, it may have been the first show after which my 13 year old turned to me and said, “Mom! I have to see it again!”
Interestingly, this 8-time Tony nominated production, which came to Broadway from Brooklyn’s St. Anne’s Warehouse, doesn’t change a single word or lyric from the classic Rogers & Hammerstein musical. But the way it’s staged, directed, and performed…wow. It becomes almost a whole different show than one you might remember from your high school production or the movie adaptation.
You can get a sense of the vibe just from Oklahoma’s Instagram feed, which is entirely in black and white.
It’s always been a play about women being bought, traded and sold, men killing each other over their property rights to said women, uncomfortable love triangles, class struggles, and the looming changes coming to Oklahoma as it readies to become the 46th US state in 1907. But this may be the first time a lot of audiences really see those themes so starkly, giving you plenty of great discussion starters for your kids after the show.
Even the set is stripped down bare. And because it’s performing in the round at Circle in the Square, when the house lights are up — which they are through much of the show — we as the audience, and our reactions, are part of the show too. You can even get “picnic table” seats right on the stage if you really want to get up there.
To be sure, there are a ton of joyous moments as well, great singing and dancing, and hilarious one-liners, especially with the perfect comedic chops of Allie Stroker as Ado Annie — who also happens to be the first Broadway actor to appear in a wheelchair. Mary Tester’s Aunt Eller also brings the perfect balance of humor and pathos. And really, I loved everyone in the cast, right down to the ensemble.
If you’ve got more mature kids who would appreciate the complexities, I think this is a phenomenal show. I’m even going to see it again. In fact, the limited run was just extended from June to January, 2020, so clearly it’s resonating with audiences.
Okay, just a few slightly older shows….
My daughter once astutely stated that Hamilton is the gateway musical that gets to discover Broadway musicals, and when they’re ready to move on, that’s when they find Dear Evan Hansen. And okay — while technically it came out a bit before the other shows here in 2016, I’d be remiss to leave it out of a list of the best Broadway shows for older kids.
In brief, the premise is pretty heavy — a boy commits suicide, and in a series of misunderstandings, the boy he bullied (Evan Hansen) who is living with severe social anxiety, is catapulted into sudden internet fame and has to grapple between gaining the acceptance he always wanted, and living the lie that got him there.
It’s intimate and heartfelt and lovely, and while the themes are difficult, you don’t leave feeling depressed. It’s been lauded for tackling mental illness and teen suicide, and the soundtrack by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who also composed La La Land The Greatest Showman) includes Waving Through a Window and You Will Be Found, both are already new Broadway classics.
Plus, Andrew Barth Feldman, who just stepped into the role of Evan, is actually a 16-year-old high school junior, and there’s something so wonderful about seeing teens played by actual teens.
If you’re a fan of the classics, or seeing a show with children of varying ages but want to skip the so-called kid shows, I would definitely keep My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center on your list.
This is another Broadway show I haven’t seen but it’s always been a favorite classic of mine. My younger daughter did see it with her grandmother last year, and I got a big thumbs up from both — though admittedly my daughter prefers the more modern shows like Mean Girls, Beetlejuice, and Be More Chill. But friends who have seen it all rave about it universally.
The original 2016 cast has mostly moved on (Lauren Ambrose, Norbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg) but Harry Hadden-Paton, who was a Best Actor nominee for his Henry Higgins remains on. (You may recognize him if you’re a Downton Abbey fan!) I’m also hearing great things about Laura Benanti’s performance as Eliza, and Broadway vet Alexander Gemignani just joined this week as Alfred Doolittle.
What I hear is special about this production, beyond the costumes and spectacle, are some important updates to Eliza’s character, and some minor tweaks to the story. I won’t give anything away, but Eliza Doolittle is nobody’s prize.
And one non-musical that all kids should see. If you can get tickets.
One last recommendation for a Broadway show to see with older kids and teens isn’t a musical, but the much-lauded Aaron Sorkin production of this American classic. It was just nominated for 9 Tonys (though oddly, not Best Play) including Best Actor for Jeff Daniels. By all accounts, see it with him starring while you can.
In the NYC public schools, the book is required reading for eighth graders, which means thousands of 13-year-olds across the city have been seeing Wednesday matinees for months now.
Of course they’re luckier than I am — time, money, and the difficulty of procuring tickets more than 4 months in advance has kept it out of reach. So far. But I’m working on it.
Because if there’s one show I think my kids would love to see — and really should see — it’s this.
Any favorites I missed? Any questions? Leave them in comments!