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Do your kids love shows on stage, real swashbuckling action and choreographed musicals? Then children’s theater is for you and the Bay Area offers an impressive number of troupes that perform specially for children, and sometimes with children on stage. No need to break the bank or skip naps. Most of these shows offer matinee and evening options as well as budget prices. Read on and pick your next family outing.

San Francisco

The performs live theater for school children at the Florence Gould Auditorium at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Expect traditional storybook stories enacted by volunteer adult actors, great props and sets. Past productions include Enchanted Sleeping Beauty: The Legend of Briar Rose and The Legend of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The sweets at the Legion of Honor café are tantalizing and the park outside great for running around.

In the junior category, at Fort Mason is a theatre school, a birthday party space and a children’s theatre – all that in small space near the water. This is where you will see kids and puppets on stage, performing beloved children classics as well as San Francisco premieres by local playwrights. Upcoming shows include Beauty and the Beast (March 5 – 27) and Adventures of the Man in the Moon (April 30 – May 22). The upside of Fort Mason is you get to walk over to for a vegetarian meal or a delicious cookie to go.

For musicals, check out , a non-profit that stages great productions with children from K to teens, at the Randall Museum. Musical Theatre Works also offers musical theater classes with a focus on performance where kids are taught by professional voice teachers. The 2011 upcoming show is Damn Yankees (May 27-29) but due to the length of the shows, it’s geared towards children 6 years and older.

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You’ve probably heard about the . They are like The Onion on stage. Every summer they stage hilarious satirical mime show as part of a free summer series in San Francisco parks and although kids don’t get the gist of the speech, they love the slapstick comedy and sheer energy of the show. Pack a picnic lunch, spread your blanket and arrive early. It’s fun! The 2011 season starts on July 2 at Dolores Park.

Peninsula

The includes school children in slick productions where sets and costumes are made by parents who know their circular saw and paintbrush. Tons of fun and child-appropriate, the shows are a bit long for very little ones, and the topics are geared for kids 5 and above. Upcoming shows include Sherlock Holmes (March11-20) and Adventures of a Comic Book Artist (April 1 and 2).

Further south, the has been a long—running tradition in the sunny city and parents rave about their “hot dog” shows. Staged outdoors, these shows allow parents to bring picnics or purchase hot dogs on site, and little ones can roam around freely. Upcoming indoors shows include Charlotte’s Web (March 30 – April 9). Tickets for the popular hot dog shows go on sale on May 7, and shows will be staged Tuesdays through Sundays in June, July, and August.

On the coast, the Pacifica Spindrift Players is a great excuse to spend a day at the beach or go bowling, and finish with a family-friendly play. Upcoming shows include Sherlock Holmes, the Final Adventure (March 25 –April 17) and Cinderella: the Rogers & Hammerstein Musical (August 11 – September 11).

Based in Mountain View, the offers beloved musicals on stage as well as stories on stage where children are invited to share a book and see the play inspired by the book. The latter is great for school-age children but for younger audiences and some toe-tapping fun, check out the musicals. Upcoming shows include My Son Pinocchio: Gepetto’s Musical Tale (May 14 – 22) and Stuart Little (July 16 – 24).

In San Jose, the stages Rising Stars shows for children with modern twists on timeless tales. After Guys and Dolls in February, Rising Stars will run Starmites (April 28 – May 1), a space age Peter Pan and The Wiz (July 15 – 24), the jazzy version of the Wizard of Oz.

East Bay

In Berkeley, the stages both musicals with professional adult actors and dancers, and productions with children actors who go through their acting school. Featuring live music, lavish sets and costumes and aerial techniques, these productions are set at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. Upcoming shows include Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (March 12 – April 3), Pride – a New Musical about the Family (April 29 – May 8 ) and Seussical the Musical (July 9 – August 14).

The focuses on adaptations of children’s books, and performs at venues throughout the East Bay. You can wait for one of the special pre-kindergarten performances at Children’s Fairyland, or buy tickets to sit in a seat at a real theater, like Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, or San Ramon’s Front Row Theatre. Through May 8, BACT will bring A Year With Frog and Toad to life on the stage.

Performing on stages in Oakland, Lafayette, El Cerrito and Castro Valley, the offers traditional folk tales in the form of musical theater and work toward bringing free theater to disadvantaged elementary schools around Oakland. The upcoming Spring 2011 production will be Beauty and the Beasty (with a Y, yes) from March 19 to April 10 in East Bay theaters.

Based in Fremont, is a non-profit youth theater that provides classes, camps and two professional quality musicals per year with a full orchestra– one in the summer, one in the winter. The Summer 2011 show will be Guys and Dolls, running from July 29 to August 13.

Marin

In Mill Valley, brings young Marin audiences family-friendly shows with their Youth Productions. The next show will be Les Misérables (March 4 – 13), the famous Broadway show.

In Santa Rosa, the regularly stages shows for the entire family as part of the Target Family Fun Series. Kids can show up an hour before the show and enjoy crafts and activities related to the show they are about to see. For a prehistoric puppet look at history, Mammoth Follies (March 25) will delight young puppet amateurs, and The Wizard of Oz (April 16) will once again bring to life Dorothy, Toto and the wicked witch of the west.

Whatever theater experience you bring to your kids, it will be unforgettable and maybe the start of a lifelong love affair with the performing arts. Enjoy the show!

—Laure Latham





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