Kiddie catharsis: Fall 2011 shows promise a sense of wonder

Your kids may resist leaving behind their TV shows and computers for a live performance. But if you force them to go, they will laugh, cry and experience the pee-wee version of catharis.

Okay, not every time. But it does happen. I speak from experience.

Here are some kid-oriented highlights for the fall season. Short of catharsis, they should at least be a lot of fun.

Kids in the Rotunda
Saturdays, Oct. 1-Dec. 17, Overture Center Rotunda, 9:30 & 11 am, 1 pm

Who says the Overture Center is just for elite audiences? Kids in the Rotunda offers a wide range of arts events for kids, free of charge, in an elegant setting that still leaves plenty of room for fidgeting.

The fall season includes hip-hop by the Figureheads (Oct. 1), a cappella singing by Tangled Up In Blue (Oct. 8), folk music by Laura Doherty (Oct. 15) and Fox & Branch (Oct. 22), interactive percussion by Dancing Drum (Oct. 29), Ken Lonnquist's version of Snow White (Nov. 5), a look at "a day in the life of a ballerina" by Madison Ballet (Nov. 12), the Gomers' karaoke for kids (Nov. 26), classical Indian dance by Kalaanjali School of Dance (Dec. 3), holiday rock 'n' roll by the Madgadders (Dec. 10) and Hanukkah tunes by Yid Vicious (Dec. 17).

If your kids go to every one of these Saturday shows, they may well end the year more cultured than you are.

The American Girls Revue
Oct. 8-23, Overture Center's Playhouse

Children's Theatre of Madison presents a musical revue based on historical fiction from the American Girl Collection. That's right - it's a theatrical production based on books that are based on dolls.

That might not sound promising, but consider these facts: The books are good examples of their kind; the dolls are beloved; the American Girl company is based in Middleton, lending the show hometown appeal; and this local production is the first one outside of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Plus, there's the fact that CTM has fabulous taste and high standards. Just be sure to set aside extra funds for doll purchases, because something tells me your little theatergoer might have a request or two after the show.

John Tartaglia's ImaginOcean
Oct. 16, Overture Center's Capitol Theater, 3 pm

John Tartaglia was nominated for a Tony for his performance in Avenue Q, and he also worked on Sesame Street. In other words, the guy knows his puppets. He brings his experience to bear on ImaginOcean, now on tour after an off-Broadway run. It's a black-light puppet show geared toward kids 4-7, full of music and corny jokes. Three fish set off on a treasure hunt, taking time out to parody Beyonce's "Single Ladies."

Middleton Holiday Pops
Nov. 26-27, Madison Marriott West

In these concerts, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra focuses on accessible holiday music, including choral works by John Rutter, traditional carol arrangements and film scores. Kids get into the act via the Middleton High School Concert Choir, and American Idol finalist A.J. Gil will make the angels weep with his sweet tenor.

John DeMain's Christmas Spectacular
Dec. 2-4, Overture Center's Overture Hall

The Madison Symphony Orchestra reaches out to families with its annual Christmas show. Expect carols and other holiday favorites, but also topnotch musicianship from conductor John DeMain, guest vocalists Kyle Ketelsen and Jamie-Rose Guarrine, the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs, and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir.

These performers will teach the kids a lesson in sublimity they'd never get from watching Katy Perry videos on YouTube.

Nutcracker Fantasy
Dec. 3-4, Wisconsin Union Theater

For a town our size, it's amazing that Madison has two major museums, two major orchestras and two major performing arts centers. So why not two versions of The Nutcracker? Dance Wisconsin's JoJean Retrum adapts the ballet and the music, offering a counterpoint to the more standard production by Madison Ballet. Expect excellent dancing, plus plenty of sugarplum sweetness.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Dec. 6-11, Overture Center's Overture Hall

Yes, you could rent Disney's 1991 animated movie version of Beauty and the Beast (again). But why not spring to see the traveling Broadway musical? The production gives the songs the extravagant treatment they deserve, and the live actors might just make an emotional connection with the kids.

A Christmas Carol
Dec. 9-23, Overture Center's Capitol Theater

Children's Theatre of Madison has made a specialty of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' tale of a miser's redemption. Last year, however, the troupe substituted a musical version of It's a Wonderful Life in the holiday slot. It was a clever ploy, because now we're all dying to see A Christmas Carol again.

James Ridge of American Players Theatre stars as Scrooge, and anyone who just saw Ridge as Petruchio in APT's The Taming of the Shrew knows he can play hardhearted with the best of them.

The Nutcracker
Dec. 17-26, Overture Center's Overture Hall

Madison Ballet's production offers its annual dose of cuteness and majesty - an irresistible combination. The mysterious Drosselmeyer presents young Clara with a nutcracker, sparking all manner of magical spectacles. Menacing rodents, an enchanted garden, waltzing flowers, Tchaikovsky's crystalline music, unearthly gracefulness - hey, whatever tickets cost, it's worth it. You can't put a price on a sense of wonder.

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