Family Time On Broadway

Daddy Warbucks and his redheaded friend were my first introduction to Broadway theater. I was slightly older than Annie. My mother and I did it right: supper at an actors' haunt, an anticipation-filled wait in the half-price ticket line just before showtime, and my choice for the evening entertainment. She didn't even flinch when I picked the children's classic from among the neon-lit offerings - no small sacrifice for a mother whose tastes lean more toward Shaw and Shakespeare.

I've since realized what she knew then: My first Broadway experience had to be good. It could cultivate a love for live storytelling that would last a lifetime. And I'd eventually make the leap from kid stuff to more sophisticated fare. So "Macbeth" could wait.

Today's young parents, who are bringing their kids to Broadway in record numbers, just might see it the same way.

The League of American Theaters and Producers announced this week that theatergoers under 18 now make up 10 percent of Broadway ticketholders and children's attendance has doubled in less than a decade.

Is all this Simba and Scar's doing? Disney's blockbuster may rule family fare, but shows such as "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Ragtime," and "The Sound of Music," which opened last night, are also luring younger audiences. The coming "Peter Pan" (see Page B7), is also expected to fly.

Our booming economy and the renovation of Times Square haven't hurt the trend either, says Jed Bernstein, the league's executive director.

Nor have incentives such as the popular "Kids Night on Broadway." The program, which just wrapped up its second year, offered free theater tickets to 50,000 children in New York and 21 other American cities during the past two months.

Even videos and computer games may be stimulating interest. "The kids are responding to the fact that the live experience should have a place in their entertainment menu," Mr. Bernstein explains.

Of course, you can see live theater anywhere, and appreciation for the stage can even be cultivated at a school play. But if you are taking first-timers to a professional show - on Broadway or elsewhere - make an adventure out of it, remember your audience, and you'll share the joys of live theater for years to come.

Speaking of which, Mom and I just made a date to see a show on Mother's Day.

* Comments? Send them to wolcott@csmonitor.com

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