Off-Broadway For Beginners

I’m a big believer of the idea that experiences are worth more than things. So for the holidays, I wanted to take my daughter to her first show instead of buying her a big pile of presents. As the parent of a sweet yet seriously temperamental two-year-old however, I had some reservations. What kind of show was appropriate for a toddler? Would she be into it and excited to watch performers on stage? What if she didn’t want to sit still? And how could I prepare her for it and make the most of such a special outing?

There are plenty of kid-friendly Broadway shows, but I knew there was no way my tot could be expected to sit in her seat (or even on my lap for that matter) for two hours — with or without an intermission. Thankfully, I found a few shows that run just an hour long and are meant for the youngest audiences. When I came across “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show” at the DR2 Theatre I knew it was perfect for my daughter because she’s been reciting the titular book and also Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for months now. We received the books as gifts when she was a baby and have been reading them regularly ever since. She’s downright obsessed with the brightly colored animal illustrations and once I caught a peek of the beautiful, life-sized puppets on the show’s website it was a no-brainer.

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Feeling confident that my little girl was well acquainted with the stories ahead of time, I then started to think about the show experience itself. I wasn’t sure she’d “get” the idea of watching a performance on stage. We don’t watch much TV at home and she’s more likely to run around the room or mess around with her friends during music class than sit and watch the teacher play guitar. I also wondered how she’d feel about being in a dark theater full of strangers. To my relief, the DR2 Theatre was small and welcoming and we felt right at home. Of course, my two-year-old didn’t want to sit in her seat by herself, but she was still as a statue in my lap from the moment the action began.

It was an utterly magical hour of storytelling and music accompanied by stunningly playful puppets both familiar and new. The show featured four Eric Carle stories, two of which we hadn’t read — 10 Little Rubber Ducks and The Very Lonely Firefly — but my daughter was just as excited about seeing those yellow quackers and brightly lit bugs prance around on stage as the characters she was keenly familiar with. She practically jumped for joy when she saw the caterpillar himself crawl out from behind a giant leaf. The moment we had been waiting for! I had been talking to her about seeing the show a few days ahead of time to help get her excited for it, but I didn’t realize how well it would work. The entire trip to the theater she chatted happily about seeing the caterpillar, how hungry it would be (sooooo hungry!), and how it would turn into a beautiful butterfly. Seeing it come to life on stage was like magical realism for both of us.

When it was time to leave, my overjoyed girl threw a bit of a fit, but I think it was simply because she didn’t want the fun to end. I made sure to give her a snack in her seat before the show started and chose a showtime that wasn’t anywhere near her nap. But meltdowns can be impossible to avoid sometimes and it didn’t take away from the wonder and enjoyment of the show. She even called it “the best day ever!” which is a phrase she must have picked up somewhere. The rest of the day was spent reliving the experience from my little one’s perspective, and I’m fairly certain her grandparents and teachers will be hearing about the show for weeks to come.

Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 18-month-old daughter. Find her at whitneycharris.com.

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