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.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.