Since its founding in 1931, the Nashville Children’s Theatre has been a staple of Nashville fine arts and education. In addition to performing and entertaining throughout each year, they host and run programs to nurture and educate their target audience: children and young adults throughout Middle Tennessee!
A rich cultural centerpiece, the Nashville Children’s Theatre stages its productions in the same building that was originally constructed for its use in 1960, but in newly renovated style since the culmination of a very successful capital campaign ending in 2007!
Today, the Nashville Children’s Theatre remains an active and conscientious member of the Nashville and Middle Tennessee community.
Knowing the history and the inclusive, educational values of this organization, we thought it’d be fun to go check out one of their performances… with a member of their target audience!
Arriving at the Theater
We took Aldyn to see the Nashville Children’s Theatre’s latest production, a very popular show called Dragons Love Tacos. It’s a play by Ernie Nolan, who also directed the piece, based off of the beloved bestselling children’s book of the same name, written by Adam Rubin with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri.
We arrived for our show at 2 PM on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon. The place was packed – families crowded the lobby, and a pleasant anticipatory buzz hummed through the building.
Rather than going straight to our seats, where we would’ve just stared at an empty stage until the show started, we took advantage of the create-your-own-taco craft table that was set up in the lobby! Construction paper colored, textured, and shaped to represent different taco toppings, littered the table alongside yellow construction paper taco shells and glue.
Aldyn had a blast loading up her “taco” with brown squares for beef, yellow strips for cheese, red rectangles for tomatoes, and even wrinkled green bits of “salad!” Just as she finished writing her name on the paper plate that housed her paper culinary masterpiece, the house lights flickered to let us know it was time to take our seats.
On the way in, Aldyn gave our tickets to a hostess wearing a taco hat, and we were ready to find our seats. It was a full house, not an empty seat in sight! We made our way to our assigned seats and sat down to look at the Playbill while we waited for the show to start. We talked about the characters listed in the program, who they might be, and what they might look like and do.
Aldyn noticed two rocky set pieces labeled “TACO CAVE” on either side of the stage, and she wondered aloud whether the dragons might be in there, since they love tacos so much. We even guessed how many tacos a dragon could eat, with Aldyn’s guess being, “Dragons can probably eat like 24 tacos. Or maybe more. Maybe a thousand!” We were excited to find out.
Door prizes of a Nashville Children’s Theatre tee shirt and a copy of Dragons Love Tacos the book were given out to lucky members of the audience before the show. A few quick announcements were presented in a fun and kid-friendly way soon after, and then the lights dimmed for the start of the show.
An Afternoon of Dancing, Drama, and Dragons!
Without giving too much away, the play’s plot centers around a Boy and his dog Leroy. The Boy, frustrated with some challenging math homework (we feel ya, buddy), decides to take a break while his mom goes to pick up dinner for them all. He thinks that maybe after some time away from it, and with a fresh meal in his belly, he’ll be able to tackle the difficult homework later on with new energy.
The action really begins when he and Leroy decide to watch a little TV while they wait. Suddenly, the Man in the Suit on the television starts talking directly to them! He tells them he knows all the secrets about dragons, and asks if the Boy and his dog would like to learn those secrets with him. When they agree, the TV magically disappears, and the three friends embark on a mission to learn all there is to know about dragons!
They meet four dragons on their adventures: a yellow, a red, a white, and a blue dragon. Together they play, perform tricks, dance, learn, and party their way through all the things dragons love to do most.
The play explores themes of not giving up when something is hard, and emphasizes the support and encouragement of friends through struggles as well as successes. This is all done in a light-hearted, silly series of mishaps and wild romps, with the Man in the Suit and his four dragon friends leading the way.
The performers were truly marvelous, engaging artists. Leroy the Dog is played by a talented circus performer, who wowed the audience multiple times with his juggling skills, circus tricks, and physical comedy.
The Man in the Suit acts as the kind of emcee of the whole event, a charismatic character who dances, sings, and performs circus and magic tricks that had Aldyn’s mouth agape! Not to mention she loved his “shiny purple pants.”
The Boy, as the hero of the show, really serves as the emotional focal point for the play’s action. Even though his character only says a few words throughout the entire show, his physical and facial expressions clearly communicated emotions in ways the children in the audience outwardly identified with.
Meanwhile, the dragons themselves were played by dancers in the Nashville Ballet’s Second Company (NB2). They exclusively danced and mimed, never speaking a single word, but they were the clear favorites of most of the kids watching.
The show captured every child’s attention from the moment it began. Not only was Aldyn 100% invested in what was happening onstage, but also the neighboring 1-year-old on her mom’s knee stared unerringly at the action, clapping and laughing at the colorful, eye-grabbing display of talent.
And the play was perfectly tailored to its viewers. During a question-and-answer portion of the show, the audience participation in identifying the dragons’ favorite mild taco toppings was overwhelming!
Although Aldyn repeatedly wondered where the Mom character had gone throughout the show, she nevertheless showed real enjoyment in every aspect of the show. Laughing and commenting at the parts that really grabbed her, Aldyn’s favorite parts included:
when all the dragons wore bowties (“even the girl dragons”)
when they dropped a dozen oversized heads of lettuce from the rafters onto the stage (“Where did those come from?!”)
when the dragons “kicked their legs up really high, and they weren’t even holding onto something!”
when the dragons got tummy aches (“This is a good play. It’s so funny!”)
when Leroy brought out a whole boat full of tacos (we asked her if she thought it was a thousand tacos like she guessed before the show, and she answered, “I think it’s more. I think it’s like forty-five thousand fifty-four tacos. That’s past a thousand.”)
After the show, Aldyn re-told the plot of the play to her mom, assured her that there was "only pretend fire" in the show, and talked with excitement about how cool it was that dragons love tacos, when she loves tacos too! She was particularly excited because her class at school was planning to have a taco party for lunch the following Friday! Now she has all kinds of insider knowledge about taco parties with dragons to share with her classmates.
All in all, it’s an experience we feel sure Aldyn will remember and think about for a good while going forward.
Know Before You Go
Tickets are getting hard to come by for this popular show. If your family wants to see Dragons Love Tacos, it’s a good idea to buy your tickets ahead of time from the Nashville Children’s Theatre website.
And if you have some extra time this weekend, it’s a great time to go! This Saturday, May 5th, the 2 PM performance of Dragons Love Tacos is a SENSORY-FRIENDLY PERFORMANCE.
According to the website, a sensory-friendly performance is “designed to be a safe and accepting environment where children with disabilities or sensory sensitivities and their typically developing [sic] peers are free to speak and move in reaction to the story being told onstage.” You can find social stories to prepare your child for this experience on this page of the Nashville Children’s Theatre website.
Then on Sunday, May 6th, the performance will be interpreted into American Sign Language. When buying tickets for this show, instructions are provided in the description for the best accessible seating for an ASL Sign-Interpreted Performance.
The show is only running for two more weekends, ending on May 13th, so get your tickets now!
We’d like to thank the Nashville Children’s Theatre for a truly unforgettable experience, and we look forward to seeing what exciting new performances they will bring us in the future.