There are some 250 theaters in the Chicago region, from small storefront community theaters to established Tony award-winners like Steppenwolf. There are also a great selection of Chicago children’s theatre. If you’re visiting the Windy City, make sure and leave one evening to enjoy a live theatre performance. Pick a dazzling downtown Broadway production, like Hamilton, or world-class children’s theatre production. When it comes to great theatre, Chicago, nicknamed the Second City, is second to none.
Putting on good theatre for kids isn’t child’s play. It requires talented actors, a clever script and imaginative set design that can keep restless minds entertained, instead of squirming in their seats. Here are the best Chicago children’s theatre shows for 2018.
People hear Broadway, and most don’t think it’s for children. But many of the world-class Broadway productions that come to Chicago are family-friendly. Children’s productions coming to Chicago in 2018 include The Lightening Thief – The Percy Jackson Musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Anastasia. Older children might also enjoy 2018 shows like Fiddler on the Roof, Hamilton, Dirty Dancing and The Color Purple.
My daughter and I just saw the classic The Wizard of Oz, brought to life on the stage of the iconic Chicago Theatre. It stayed true to the 1939 movie, but added dazzling special effects, and plenty of new dance numbers. Hearing live actors perform beloved songs like “Over the Rainbow,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” ”Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” and “If I Only Had A Brain” made for an unforgettable evening of theater.
Just west of the Loop is the Chicago Children’s Theater. They put on creative, world class productions for kids, that are just as enjoyable for adults. They just finished a multi-million dollar repurposing of an old police station, turning it into their new theater.
I’ve seen many of their performances, and they never disappoint. Their most recent production, Last Stop on Market Street, is a hip-hop musical about family and community. Young CJ is spending four days with his grandma in her working class urban neighborhood. The city is unfamiliar to CJ, who has many preconceived notions about people. But whether riding the subway or walking the streets, he comes to see the city from grandma’s perspective. Through her, he learns to see the beauty in her gritty, graffitied neighborhood and humble apartment. I attended with my husband and nine year-old daughter. All three of us were charmed by the performance.
I applaud the Chicago Children’s Theater directors and equity actors for always putting on a show that both children and their accompanying adults can find entertaining. What does it mean to be an equity theater? It means that unlike community theater, these are professional actors who belong to an actor’s union.
Last Stop on Market Street runs through June 9, 2018.
This suburban theater, a half hour north of Chicago and O’Hare Airport, is located at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort. Their upcoming 2018 children’s theatre performances include Pinkalicious and Shrek – the Musical. Keep in mind that many of their classic musicals for adults are also appropriate for kids.
I brought my 9 year-old to their adult theatre production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, “People Will Say We’re in Love” and of course the title song enthralled. This is classic American songbook, and I was so happy to introduce my daughter to it. Lincolnshire Marriott did a beautiful job.
One of my favorite things about the Marriott Theatre is that it’s set up in the round. That means it’s a circular stage surrounded by the audience. There is honestly no bad seat in the house. The theatre in the round design also sets the stage for a highly interactive performance. Since there is no backstage, actors and sets enter the stage through the audience and occasionally interact on the way.
Oklahoma runs through June 10, 2018.
One of my favorite family-friendly theatres in Chicago is the Lookingglass Theatre. It’s housed in the historic Old Water Tower building just off Michigan Avenue. This landmark was one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It’s an intimate theatre with only 220 seats, right in the heart of the Magnificent Mile.
Their children’s theatre productions often use high-flying acrobatics and special effects to create a visual spectacle. Their acting is just as impressive. Lookingglass Theatre was founded in 1988 by 8 Northwestern University graduates, including actor David Schwimmer of “Friends” fame. In 2011, Lookingglass won the Tony award for best regional theatre, a well-deserved honor for such a creative troupe.
For the summer of 2018, they’re putting their spin on the Jules Verne masterpiece, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas. Can’t wait to see what they do with this sci-fi classic. It runs through August 19, 2018
Think a Shakespeare theatre wouldn’t have children’s theatre productions? Think again. Located at Chicago’s top tourist attraction, Navy Pier, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre also offers children’s performances. And they’re not even Shakespeare plays.
For the summer of 2018, they’ll present Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure. It’s a 75-minute running time, a perfect introduction to live theater for children. Stay after the show to meet the cast and snap some selfies, and then make a day of it at Navy Pier. Ride the iconic ferris wheel, or the carousel. Stop by the Chicago Children’s Museum or eat at one of the many restaurants.
Peter Pan runs through August 19, 2018
Do you bring your kids to theatre performances on vacation? What’s your experience been?