My son is still humming songs from last spring's production of The Lion King at Overture Hall. I am, too, along with repeating the funny lines and sniffling whenever I think about the emotional climax.
Can any family-friendly shows for the fall season match The Lion King for sheer entertainment value? Let's survey some of the contenders and keep our fingers crossed.
Kids in the Rotunda
Overture Center, Sept. 25-Nov. 27
The Overture Center's free program offers a reliable answer to that nagging Saturday morning question: What can we do with the kids today? For the fall season, a bunch of cool local bands retool their acts for young ears: the bluesy Cash Box Kings (Oct. 2), karaoke-rockers the Gomers (Oct. 23) and the percussion-heavy Handphibians (Nov. 13). Other crowd-pleasers include the Wild Rumpus World Circus (Oct. 9), Wayne the Wizard's Halloween Show (Oct. 30) and Daniel Barash's shadow puppetry (Nov. 27).
Children's Theater of Madison, Overture Center Playhouse, Oct. 16-24
CTM targets the youngest theatergoers with this adaptation of Margaret Wise Brown's immortal children's book. Lots of kids fall asleep when you read them the story, but I don't think that will be a problem during this production, featuring lively music, puppets and dancing. You'll leave with new respect for the drowsy bunny hero.
Richie's House of Jazz
Monona Terrace, Oct. 27
Nowadays, there aren't many chances for kids to get bitten by the jazz bug, and that's a shame. But wait! Monona Terrace's free, family-oriented concert features bebop saxophonist extraordinaire Richie Cole and the vocal quintet Five by Design. If your child digs this show, you'll know you have a budding hipster on your hands.
Strega Nona: The Musical
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Nov. 21
This touring musical is a pop-up book come to life for kids 4 to 9. Based on Tomie de Paola's Strega Nona stories, it's about a good witch who solves workaday problems in her small Italian town. The coup de thétre: a magical pot that spews pasta all over the stage.
The Yum Yum Room
University Theatre, Nov. 12, 13, 14 & 20
The University Theatre's production isn't appropriate for kids under 15, but it will appeal to lovelorn high school students (in other words, all high school students). Australian playwright Stephen House tells the story of a small-town boy whose life turns around during his first romance. This is the play's U.S. debut.
Overture Center's Overture Hall, Nov. 27 & 28
This riot of movement and music is created by the folks behind the movie Drumline, about a Harlem street drummer who joins a college marching band. Overture doesn't list the touring musical version as a kids' event, but I suspect certain older kids will indeed thrill to the big beats and blasting brass. The several dozen performers come from marching bands at historically black colleges, and they transform the stage into the world's funkiest football field.
Middleton Holiday Pops
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Nov. 27-28, Madison Marriott West
Madison Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 3-5, Overture Hall
These holiday shows by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Symphony Orchestra offer kids easy entrée into the world of classical music. The Middleton High School Concert Choir and soprano Amanda Huddleston join the WCO for such sonic treats as "Concert Suite from The Polar Express" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The MSO's Christmas Spectacular features Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown, the Madison Youth Choirs, Madison Symphony Chorus and Mount Zion Gospel Choir in a can't-miss program of holiday favorites. Don't be surprised if your child asks for a violin for Christmas.
Dance Wisconsin, Dec. 3-5, Wisconsin Union Theater
Madison Ballet, Dec. 18-26, Overture Hall
Madison Ballet mounts a lavish version of The Nutcracker, with choreography by artistic director W. Earle Smith and score by Tchaikovsky. Dance Wisconsin's delightful adaptation features artistic director JoJean Retrum's choreography and original music. I took two middle school boys to the Dance Wisconsin production last year, expecting complaints. But they enjoyed it - a true Christmas miracle.
A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play
Madison Theatre Guild, Dec. 4-18, Bartell Theatre
Madison Theatre Guild takes over Scrooge duties from Children's Theater of Madison this year. The troupe presents a radio version, heavy on evocative sounds. Rattle those chains, Mr. Marley.
A Wonderful Life
Children's Theater of Madison, Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Dec. 10-23
Children's Theater of Madison had perfected A Christmas Carol over the years, but I guess there's such a thing as too much perfection. For its 2010 holiday production, CTM opts for a change of pace: a musical based on It's a Wonderful Life, that American-style Christmas Carol about a man granted a supernatural second chance. An angel gets his wings - that ought to end 2010 on a positive note.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.