When I was a kid, my parents would bring my siblings and me to a local small-town theater called the Grange. A modest hall on the banks of a river, it was packed with metal folding chairs for opening night. The actors were people we knew — a young woman from our church folk group, an older neighbor, my middle school art teacher. It’s where I was spooked by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, delighted by the groundbreaking Wiz, fascinated (and a bit embarrassed) by bare-it-all Hair.
In little Buxton, Maine, the Grange was as good as it gets. And it was quite good. But for all of us raising kids in the Boston area today, we have great options for live theater. Here are five that are perfect for the whole family.
We love Wheelock. In the past couple years, my girls and I have gone to this Fenway-area theater to watch Billy Elliot find his dance shoes, Beauty rescue her Beast, and Charlotte spin a web (by performing very cool trapeze-like moves in a long loop of black fabric). The actors are people of all ages and colors, and they’re cast in a refreshing way. A grandmother-type playing surly, self-centered Templeton the Rat? YES!
Wheelock prides itself on its access and has open-captioning, audio description, and ASL-interpreted performances. It also offers study guides and stories to accompany each production.
Truly a theater for young people, BCT fills both its audience and stage with kids. The theater is committed to empowering through the arts, as shown in energetic, youth-driven performances like Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat. BCT gave my middle daughter her first theater experience when we brought the whole family to The Velveteen Rabbit a few years back, and when my oldest and I caught Fancy Nancy The Musical in 2016, we were awed by the song and dance numbers. Just try to leave without shaking your head at how talented these kids are.
BCT performs at various local theaters, including the South End’s Calderwood Pavilion.
Going strong since 1955, Beverly’s North Shore Music Theater offers a host of family-friendly programming. Its morning kid shows, like Heidi and Hansel and Gretel, are inclusive of all ages and run approximately one hour and 15 minutes, including an intermission. Other Broadway-type shows, like Peter Pan and A Christmas Carol, are suited for kids over 4 years old. The theater offers booster seats, a wide array of concessions, and a large courtyard with plenty of seating. There’s even an outdoor grill offering burgers and other fare in the summer months. So you can make a (family) date of it.
Nestled into Brookline Village, the Puppet Showplace Theater has been delighting audiences since 1974. The workhorse of this list of local theaters, this theater features a different mainstage show every week, so loyal fans can keep coming back for more. Most shows are appropriate for kids over age 3 or 4 (but entertaining enough for us big kids), and it’s easy to get in and out of the small theater if your little one needs a break in the lobby. While there, you can shop for — what else? — puppets.
For the littlest theater-goers, try Kidstage at the Boston Children’s Museum, a small, colorful theater where kids are encouraged to become part of the show. Kidstage features range from The Three Little Pigs to Arthur Builds a Tree House. Performances are usually only 20-30 minutes in length — perfect for shorter attention spans — and are included with the cost of museum admission.
Other notables: Arlington’s Regent Theatre and Children’s Theatre, Watertown Children’s Theatre, Cohasset’s South Shore Music Circus, and Concord Youth Theatre