When It Comes To Family Musicals, Kids' Opinions Matter More Than Critics' Normally, critical reviews can kill a Broadway show, but not so for kid-focused musicals. Anastasia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are currently on Broadway, vying for the kid seal of approval.
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When It Comes To Family Musicals, Kids' Opinions Matter More Than Critics'

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When It Comes To Family Musicals, Kids' Opinions Matter More Than Critics'

When It Comes To Family Musicals, Kids' Opinions Matter More Than Critics'

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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

Creating a hit musical which appeals to family audiences is kind of Broadway's holy grail. Think of "Lion King" or "Wicked" which have run for decades. Critics don't always give these shows good reviews, but some of them are critic-proof. Two musicals, which recently opened, are trying to appeal to kids and their parents as well. Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: On a recent Friday evening at 10:30, after a performance of "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" finished, throngs of families exited the theater. Taylor Ponte from Manhattan had a typical response.

TAYLOR PONTE: I liked it a lot, and I liked the part when she blew up like a balloon. I liked all of it.

LUNDEN: This kind of reaction is why Warner Bros., which is producing the show, brought it to Broadway. The adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's book could be something of a golden ticket for them, creating a hit which runs for years, goes on tours in the U.S. and overseas and sells tons of merchandise. But some of the critics weren't impressed.

DAVID ROONEY: I loathed the show. I thought it was a complete mess.

LUNDEN: That's David Rooney, chief theater critic for the Hollywood Reporter. Even if he didn't like this one, he says family musicals are big business on Broadway. They have been ever since Disney presented a stage adaptation of "Beauty And The Beast" in 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, singing) Song as old as rhyme, beauty and the beast.

ROONEY: A lot of people roll their eyes about what Disney does on Broadway. But I think, for the most part, they do it very well.

LUNDEN: He says, Disney shows like "The Lion King" and "Aladdin" give audiences a lot of bang for their buck.

ROONEY: I think a family buying Broadway tickets want to see what they're spending their money on. They want to see a production that has energy and that has spectacle and that will dazzle their kids. And I think Disney knows how to do that. And I would imagine that "Frozen" is going to be along those lines.

LUNDEN: But "Frozen" doesn't open until next spring. This spring, "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" is duking it out with a stage adaptation of "Anastasia," the 1997 Fox animated film. And did Rooney like that one? Yes and no.

ROONEY: There's a real fluid cinematic feel to it, but the material is what it is. It's kind of clunky. It's a little bit kitsch.

LUNDEN: But it's been selling out, so it could be one of those critic-proof shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ANASTASIA")

CHRISTY ALTOMARE: (As character, singing) Let this road be mine. Let it lead me to my past.

LUNDEN: And Rooney admits it, when he saw "Anastasia," the girls in the audience especially responded loudly to many moments. And he says kids seem to like "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory," too. That show has a mostly new score by the songwriting team of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman who wrote "Hairspray." They say adapting a film musical that people grew up with has its own set of expectations.

MARC SHAIMAN: Scott and I would tell people we're writing the score to a new version of "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" and...

SCOTT WITTMAN: They would look at us and go...

SHAIMAN: ...To a person. They would all go, oh...

SCOTT WITTMAN AND MARC SHAIMAN: (Singing) Come with me.

WITTMAN: (Laughter).

SHAIMAN: Like, our best friends who know we write music and lyrics and we're - we just said we're about to write a score for a new musical. So it was very clear that there was no...

WITTMAN: So the writing was - it was on the wall.

LUNDEN: So when the show debuted in London four years ago, it featured "Pure Imagination" from the Gene Wilder film.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY")

DOUGLAS HODGE: (As character, singing) Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure imagination. Take a look, and you'll see into your imagination.

LUNDEN: For the heavily revised Broadway version, other songs from that film have been added.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing) The candy man makes everything he bakes satisfying and delicious.

LUNDEN: And "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" has been doing bang-up business, even if it didn't receive any Tony nominations. It's the kids and the parents who pay for the tickets who will ultimately decide if "Anastasia" and "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" have long, healthy runs. Eileen Young from Fairfield, Conn., brought her 7-year-old daughter and a friend.

EILEEN YOUNG: It's "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory." How do you not come?

LUNDEN: Warner Bros. is so confident in the show's appeal to family audiences that they've already announced a national tour. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) You can take tomorrow.

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