Is there anything sweeter than the look of excitement on a child's face at a live performance? You'll have a chance to see that look many times in the coming months, given the spring season's wide range of appealing shows for kids. They include magic, ballet, yo-yos, the Grinch, a crazed juggling extravaganza, exotic acrobats and a certain leonine touring musical.
This list isn't complete, but it hits many of the highlights. I can see those faces lighting up already.
Kids in the Rotunda
Saturdays, Jan. 9-May 1, Overture Center
Overture's free weekly series is a paradise for kids, not to mention parents wondering how to keep the whole squirrelly clan busy on a Saturday. The spring season includes the ironic yo-yo king Mark Hayward (Jan. 23), the spirited Trinity Academy of Irish Dance (March 13) and the eccentric juggler Truly Remarkable Loon (May 1).
MadFest Juggling Extravaganza
Jan. 16, Wisconsin Union Theater
The annual variety show is a showcase of skill and wit, as object manipulators from far and wide try to top each other with rings, clubs, bowling balls, knives and anything else that can be tossed into the air. Get there early - the Union Theater is always packed to the rafters with wide-eyed kids.
Jan. 17, High Noon Saloon
Chicago's Ralph Covert has a respectable indie rock pedigree, which may explain why his kids' music is hipper than most. Here's a children's concert that parents need not fear.
Little House on the Prairie
Jan. 19-24, Overture Center's Overture Hall
You've read your kids the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about a girl's life on the frontier. Perhaps you've also showed them the TV series starring Melissa Gilbert. Now it's time to treat them to the touring musical version of Little House on the Prairie starring...Melissa Gilbert! Yes, she's grown out of the Laura role but is, alarmingly, just the right age for Ma.
Jan. 31, Monona Terrace
Kids themselves handle the entertainment at the annual talent showcase. This year's event emphasizes connections among various cultures in our region.
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Presented by Children's Theatre of Madison, Feb. 13-21, Overture Center Playhouse
Caldecott- and Newbery-winning children's author Kevin Henkes is one of Madison's cultural treasures, and this theatrical adaptation takes his beloved mice characters from page to stage. Will Lilly be sent to the Uncooperative Chair? Stay tuned.
Feb. 14, Overture Center's Overture Hall
The troupe brings the ancient Chinese art of acrobatics into the 21st century, making the impossible possible with their miracles of contortion and balance. Kids: Don't try this at home.
Duck Soup Cinema
Feb. 20, Overture Center's Capitol Theater
Overture's series evokes the vaudeville era with a variety show followed by a silent film, complete with organ accompaniment. You might think your kids will be bored by a silent movie, but don't underestimate the timeless power of Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush.
A Year With Frog and Toad
Feb. 21, Overture Center's Capitol Theater
It won't be easy to evoke the distinctive tone of Arnold Lobel's books - droll and just the right amount of glum. If this touring musical can pull it off, expect magic.
Schoolhouse Rock Live!
Presented by Laboratory Theatre, March 5-20, Bartell Theatre
A new local theater troupe presents the musical based on those 1970s TV cartoons, which used cute songs to teach us about history, government, math, science and grammar. To this day, no civics textbook has improved on "I'm Just a Bill."
March 6, Overture Center
The mostly free event celebrates Madison's diverse cultures with a craft bazaar, workshops and many performers representing world traditions. The one ticketed concert features the Chicago folk group Sones de México.
March 7, Overture Center's Capitol Theater
The touring Broadway musical takes a trip to Dr. Seuss' alternate universe, with appearances by Horton the Elephant, the Grinch and Yertle the Turtle. Watch out for the Cat in the Hat - that dude is crazy.
Presented by Madison Ballet, March 13-14, Overture Center's Overture Hall
Madison Ballet revives its lavish production, with flamboyant choreography by artistic director W. Earle Smith and score by Prokofiev.
Presented by Children's Theatre of Madison, April 10-18, Overture Center Playhouse
CTM invites us to step through that mysterious wardrobe with a musical adaptation of C.S. Lewis' tale. Yay, lion; boo, witch.
The Man Who Planted Trees
April 10, Overture Center's Promenade Hall
A touring company adapts Jean Giono's 1953 story with puppets and sensuous effects. Accompanied only by his dog, a shepherd plants trees to transform a desolate valley.
The Lion King
April 27-May 23, Overture Center's Overture Hall
The children's cultural event of the season. The Broadway musical based on Disney's animated film will be in town for almost a month, dazzling us with costumes, puppets and catchy songs. You could save some money by staying home and renting the movie, but your kids might never forgive you.
Bill Blagg III
April 30, Overture Center's Capitol Theater, 7 pm
The young magician aims to give David Copperfield a run for his money with a snazzy theatrical presentation. He's been known to make audience members disappear, so keep a close eye on your kids.