The Making of a Broadway Fanatic

0-5I grew up in a musical family. And by “musical” I don’t mean that any of us in the Sackheim household was blessed with the gift of song. I, for example, took piano lessons for eight years, but never progressed beyond a fourth-grade level. Likewise, I remember sitting through my sisters’ choir concerts when, to tell you the truth, I don’t think of my sisters as people who can sing. I cannot sing either. Nor can our parents. My husband, who has an excellent voice, dramatically winces when he hears our rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

Yet for all we Sackheims lacked in the ability to produce music, we more than made up for in our desire to consume it. We were (and still are) musical fanatics—Broadway musical fanatics to be exact. Many of my happiest childhood memories feature excursions to see Broadway shows.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, my family had access to excellent productions in the city. And since my mom’s family lived in Rochester, New York, my parents often attached two days in New York City on to our annual grandparent visit. Sometimes we saw three shows in one trip. I was spoiled one could argue. But not spoiled rotten. Because rotten is so negative, and those shows were good times. Those shows were joy.

The Broadway experience in our family was also educational. My parents made us read about the musicals weeks before a show and listen to the music since it’s hard to truly capture the nuances of what’s happening when you’re hearing the lyrics for the first time live.

We learned about plot, character, and sometimes even history and faith. Before seeing Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat (with Donny Osmond!) we reread the chapters in Genesis concerning Jacob and his sons and Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. We learned about the French revolution for Les Miserables and about Vietnam before seeing Lea Salonga and Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon. The list goes on and on. (Lucky girl, like I said.)

When I was fourteen, my mom forced me to read The Secret Garden before she would take me to see the Tony-nominated version (with Mandy Patinkin!) in New York. I grumbled about having to put down whichever VC Andrews novel I’d been devouring at the time. “Classics are boring,” I insisted. As it happens, The Secret Garden became one of my favorite books, and I still listen to that 1991 musical version now.

I didn’t waste any time passing my Broadway love onto a new generation. My kids might bear the surname Badzin, but I’ve made sure they approach Broadway shows like a Sackheim.

We started with Annie, a gateway musical. I focused on the little girl, the loyal dog, the iconic red dress, and the upbeat “sun will come out tomorrow” message. They absolutely loved it.

Next I tried The Sound of Music. They quickly memorized the words to “My Favorite Things,” or as they still call the song, “Raindrops on Roses.” The Nazi plot points proved harder to simplify for young kids. And I can’t remember how I explained the stalker issues in The Phantom of the Opera, nor can I imagine what possessed me to introduce that particular show to three kids ages six and under. (I started this Broadway indoctrination long before we had four children.)

Nowadays the kids tell me when they’ve had enough of one show and want to hear something new. I try to be careful with the order so that I’m not exposing them to flashy numbers before they’ve had a chance to appreciate the older soundtracks. I made a mistake playing Wicked for them before we’d tried Fiddler on the Roof. Suffering discrimination for being green my kids could imagine. But for being Jewish? Bless my proud and naive, Jewish kids’ hearts, they found that particular plot point unrealistic.

We started The Secret Garden last month. I held my breath as they listened to the first act. The won’t like it, I thought. The show starts in India then quickly moves to England. The music, like the story, is dark. The characters cry often; ghosts (who actually sing in the show) appear as part of Uncle Archibald’s imagination and sometimes in flashbacks, which is hard to describe to kids listening in the car on the way to school. That became a lesson for them, too.

I’m happy to report that the kids loved The Secret Garden, but now we’re back to Wicked on car rides because Bryan and I are taking our oldest three to see it in Minneapolis this week. Sam and Rebecca, now nine and almost seven, saw Joseph and The Lion King downtown with my in-laws (for which I’m very grateful), but I’ve never had the chance to take them to a live performance myself. It’s quite an investment to bring a whole family to a Broadway production, which certainly gives me a new appreciation for the way my parents included my sisters and me in their love of theater.

Something I hope my parents appreciate is the one unexpected return on their investment: Their grandchildren not only know every word of these shows, but their grandchildren can also sing those words in pleasant voices and on tune. It’s the happy ending of this Broadway fanatic’s dreams.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Read more of Nina’s work in This is Childhood, a book about the first years of childhood and motherhood. 



This entry was written by Nina Badzin

About the author: Nina Badzin is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. She has written about parenting, marriage, friendship and more in The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Kveller, and elsewhere. You can read more of her work at  and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (

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  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Oh, Nina .. you’ve reminded me how much I miss theatre. Having worked at universities most of my life, I had access to all kinds of productions at the collegiate level (and never missed one). True – no Broadway – but I did have the chance to see a Broadway show in NYC years ago, though was sadly afflicted by a hard case of the flu and shivered the entire night! Then there were trips to Toronto for Phantom and Miss Saigon, and Shakespeare Festival performances. You’ve inspired me to check out the University of Arizona showings, even though that’s still a 55-mile trek! I LOVE that you have exposed your children to the arts in this way. Bravo!

    • Nina

      I love high school shows, college, community, etc. It doesn’t have to be “Broadway.” I should have said that, actually!! I’ll be the U of A has some great stuff.

  • Kerry Ann Morgan

    An entire family singing in tune? The Von Trapps would be proud. I think musical theater is an amazing experience for all ages, and in this age of junk TV and too many video games, a breath of fresh air for kids. I took my son to see The Lion King last year—he was blown away. I wish we could see every show that passed through town. Someday. Great piece!

    • Nina

      Thank you! I wish we could see every show too. I don’t know if shows are WAY more expensive now or if I’m imagining things. This outing to Wicked is quite an undertaking. I will have to withhold the desire to remind them every three seconds to enjoy it. ;)

  • Alisa

    Nina, this is hysterical- and also so sweet. What a lovely tradition. I love the idea of understanding the background first. I’ve never read The Secret Garden (though I did read all of V.C. Andrews books!) and I’m intrigued. Adding it to my list of books to read with my kids.

    • Nina

      I think you’ll love The Secret Garden, Alisa! My big two kids read easier versions. There are always kids’ versions of classics out there.

  • Tammy

    I think we may have led (lead?) parallel lives. Growing up in Buffalo, NY, I got to visit NYC and Toronto to get my regular musical fix. I knew my husband was the one for me when, on our first long car ride together, we sang the entire soundtrack of Joseph together. (Remarkably, he’s even straight!) You’ve inspired me to force more of this show-tune indoctrination upon my kids. I’ve been negligent in my Broadway Baby-making duties. Thanks for sharing!

    • Nina

      Totally parallel. I also appreciated that my husband liked going to shows and knew many songs. Joseph is one of my favorites. I don’t care that I have a bad voice. I cannot help belting “Close Every Door” when I hear it. That line, “Children of Israel are never alone” brings tears to my eyes. Because I’m a Broadway freak like that.

  • Annie Neugebauer

    This is adorable! I love how much you love musicals, and I love that you’ve passed on that passion to your kids. I remember my mom taking me to ballets and theatre performances when I was young, and those are some of my most magical memories. I think you’re very smart to introduce them to the classics first. I’m making a mental note of that. :)

    • Nina

      Thanks, Annie! Ballet is one I never got into, but I imagine those are good memories, too.

  • Cheryl at Busy Since Birth

    Oh Nina, we have even more in common than I knew.

    While my parents weren’t Broadway pushers per se, I was permitted unrelenting viewings of Fiddler and A Chorus Line far earlier than perhaps I should have been. I discovered Phantom at the end of seventh grade and was sold from then on. I saw Joseph when it featured Michael Damian from “The Young and the Restless” and many, many more shows along the way. I never saw The Secret Garden, but had the CD. I still remember writing about it for a standardized test somewhere along the way. I’ve tried to see as many shows as my budget has allowed in recent years. Hannah saw her first Broadway show at age 4, The Little Mermaid. She’s now 9 and has seen Mary Poppins, The Lion King, Wicked, and Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby. I think it’ll be another year before I can show her A Chorus Line, and I’ve been waiting as patiently as I can. Even then, she’ll be exposed to it probably too soon…just like her mom. Thankfully, she won’t have to wait until college for RENT, since it’s already been written!

    • Nina

      Love this, Cheryl! And of course I was OBSESSED with Rent in college. I can still sing every word though it doesn’t feel as “serious” as it did when it first came out. It definitely feels a little dated, I guess. But it did capture a time for sure.

  • Mary @ A Teachable Mom

    I agree – live theatre for me is pure joy! And I don’t see it often enough, especially that I live in Chicago and have access to so much amazing work. You’ve inspired me to get tickets to Wicked for my girls this winter. I’ve seen it twice and don’t really want to see it again, but my daughters love the story and ask me to tell it to them constantly. Thanks for the nudge and the reminder of all the joy to be found in musicals!

    • Nina

      I wonder if in some ways living in Chicago with SO MANY shows coming through makes it seem a bit overwhelming. In Minneapolis we have one nice theater where shows will come and another one in St. Paul. But it’s not like we get everything nor do we get it all at once. It makes it easier to go through the effort to get tickets because it’s not like we will have a chance to any particular show whenever we want. Also an issue–in all the cities–it’s so expensive!!

  • Jesse

    Love this! Do you start with cast recordings? How do your kids respond to just hearing, rather than seeing, the action in front of them in this world of TV and videos?

    • Nina


      This is such a good question and I wish I had addressed it more directly in the essay. We always listen to the recordings first–often for months. I explain what’s happening in the first few times through a soundtrack. They like to look at the pictures in the CDs for a cue to the visuals. But in most cases, they never see the show on a screen or on a stage, simply because we don’t always have the opportunity. They were into the Annie movie for a while, but they didn’t love Sound of Music on screen (it’s a REALLY long movie). We do have a screen version of Joseph that they love, but even in that case I didn’t show it to them until long after they knew the music and the story.

      I love that they have the chance to imagine a story before seeing it. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Jackie Cangro

    There is nothing like being in the theater and hearing the actors’ voices booming loud across the stage. You can feel the reverberations throughout your body. It’s wonderful that you’ve introduced your kids to these shows. Since I live in NYC I have had the opportunity to go to many musicals over the years. One of my favorites was The Producers (with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane!), but how do you explain the number “Springtime for Hitler” to a child? :)
    I remember at the show Avenue Q (a terrific, terrific musical involving muppets), a family from out of town brought their ten-year-old girl, probably thinking that it would be fun for her. Well, it’s definitely NOT a show for kids. The mom was slinking down in her chair, probably thinking about all the questions her daughter was going to have after the show ended. ;P

    • Nina

      Oh yes, there are for sure shows that I would not see WITH the kids for a long time. Even Chorus Line!

  • Allie Smith

    I love this piece. I too came from a family with NO musical (or dance) talent. But my mother loved musicals and took me at a young age to see Carol Chandler in Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. I worked at a dinner theater in high school and got to see so many shows. I’ve taken two of my children to see Annie and they loved it. They’ve since seen the movie and I am thrilled that they prefer the stage production! I’ve never seen The Secret Garden, but I do have the book, so perhaps I need to read it to the kids.

    • Nina

      I should have worked in a dinner theater! That’s so cool! I worked in a candy store. Very bad idea for me.

  • Kristen Mae at Abandoning Pretense

    The only musical my kids have heard of is Annie. My husband is kind of allergic – or something – to musicals. We rented Les Miserables on Amazon and when Hugh Jackman started singing he looked at me deadpan and said: “REALLY?” and promptly fell asleep. I, on the other hand, sobbed like a baby through the entire thing and was belting the songs for a month afterward. And now one of my daughter’s favorite lullabies is “Castle on a Cloud.”

    • Nina

      That version of Les Mis was a hard one to force him to see. Bryan ikes musicals, but even he spent that whole movie glaring at me, also saying “Really?” ha!

  • Go Jules Go

    That’s great. I was latecomer to Broadway, despite living so close to NYC. I finally saw “Wicked” not too long ago, which is just as good as everyone says it is!

    • Nina

      With your good voice, I bet you will continue to appreciate the shows more and more! I want to see a musical montage on your blog some day. :)

  • Tamara

    We lived near NYC so we’d see Broadway plays, if not every year, at least every other year. I saw them on field trips with my school and my temple’s youth group. I did see “Diary of Anne Frank” on Broadway, although that wasn’t a musical. It was really hard to wrap my head around. I cannot imagine explaining it to my kids, but I will. They will read the book, for sure.
    I love musicals. I can’t carry a tune but it always reminds me of the holiday season and getting a treat to take into the theater. I love when the lights go down, and the lights go up on the sets.

    • Nina

      Oh I love that exact moment too!

  • Mari Passananti

    Love this. At what age did you start taking your kids to broadway productions? I think my son would love it, but still, he’s too young to make it through without disrupting other patrons. Something to look forward to…

    • Nina

      I think my older two saw a few shows when my in-laws starting when they were 6 and 4. But the Wicked outing this weekend is really the first show that Bryan and I will have taken them to. The three going are 9, almost 7, and 4.5 The 4.5 year old is a bit young for it, but she knows every word of the show so I think she can handle it. Otherwise I wouldn’t bring her.

    • Nina

      Also wanted to add that many cities have a children’s theater that does great productions.

  • Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla

    What a great idea your parents had, having you and your siblings learn about the musicals and the lyrics ahead of time! I saw the Book of Mormon in April in NYC and Wicked (my favorite) twice in the year before, both of them reminding me of the magic of the stage and how powerful it is to tell a story with song.

    • Nina

      Can you believe that I missed The Book of Mormon when it came to town? I will be the last Broadway fanatic on Earth to see it.

  • Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real.

    Oh, this article made me smile! First of all, I am almost to the end of reading The Secret Garden with my 7 year old! It was risky– I had fond, nostalgic memories of reading it with my own mom– but she loves it! She often gasps and hides under the covers because she is so delighted. It is one of my favorite parenting experiences to date. I really hope to take her to see it, as well. I also grew up in a “musical” family- in both senses of the word, and I firmly intend to pass that love onto my own children!

    • Nina

      She will love the music and so will you!

  • Stacey

    What wonderful memories you had and have now passed on to your children. I grew up in Rhode Island and our local college put on the most amazing shows. My mother and I went to everything we could. I remember Fiddler on the Roof being our favorite. Now I feel really lucky to be so close to NYC although we don’t bring the girls in as often as we should… This post served as a good reminder to get something on our calendar soon!

    • Nina

      Can’t wait to hear what you choose!

  • Cynthia Robertson

    Your parents sound awesome, Nina. I love that they made you all learn about the musicals beforehand. And I LOVE that your kids found the idea of being discriminated against for being Jewish hard to fathom (that says something positive about our world, huh?).
    It IS expensive to take an entire family. Wish it wasn’t so! One alternative is to take them to university productions, those tend to be much cheaper, and are often quite good – not Broadway, maybe, but not bad.

  • Rivki Silver

    This is such a nice post, Nina! I’m very impressed with your parents’ approach to appreciating the musicals by understanding them. Nicely done, Sackheims! And I chortled on the how-to-explain-Phantom dilemma. Indeed! I consumed a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber when young, but never branched out much past that. I was unaware that there was a Secret Garden musical, and now I will check it out. Thank you! Also, I’m glad to hear your children have the musical appreciation *and* the ability. ;)

  • Alarna Rose Gray

    I’m totally in awe of your parents! Going to musicals is something I’ve learned to enjoy as an adult, though I haven’t been to many. A highlight was taking my nephew to see Pinnochio for his 7th birthday. That was fun!

  • Amy

    I love this! My daughter is 5 and just getting into musicals (Annie and Mary Poppins are her faves) but I love thinking about which ones to tackle next. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Chris Edgar

    Great to hear, Nina — if I have children at some point, I’ll definitely make a point out of doing the same. I think a lot of material that’s on Broadway now, unbeknownst to people who may be more into the Rodgers & Hammerstein-era classics (or more recently, Phantom and Les Miz) has a strongly contemporary sensibility that could really draw the teenagers of today in — I’m thinking of shows like Next to Normal (my personal favorite) and Now. Here. This.