<i>Strega Nona: The Musical</i>

Angels, wizards and flying pasta

Fall children's shows are action-packed

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).

Goodnight Moon
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.

Drumline Live!
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
Christmas Spectacular
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.

Nutcracker Fantasy
Dance Wisconsin, Dec. 3-5, Wisconsin Union Theater
The Nutcracker
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.

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