The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is known for their clever and fantastic productions. With “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical,” they deliver a show that is visually charming, socially relevant and offers critical lessons for us all. Inspired by Civil Rights pioneers Ruby Bridges and The Little Rock Nine, the show brings to life 8-year-old Lily Polkadot’s journey as she seeks to integrate into the “Squares Only” small town of Rockaway and maybe even find a friend. In a world where history is (unfortunately) destined to repeat itself, we desperately need this poignant, heart-warming reminder of the importance of tolerance, kindness and an open mind.
If you have never been to the TCT Showtime Series at their Red Bank location, then you are missing out. The theater is cozy, enabling excellent views from every comfortable seat, and flexible enough to enable the hugely talented set designers to create unique environments for every production. For “Polkadots,” they created an “Inside Out”-esque world, leveraging color and shapes that speak to the child in us all and represent diversity in the best possible way. Every detail is well thought-out and reinforces the storyline, from the square and dot water dispensers to the separate lunch trays in their respective shapes (with a subtle nod to current circumstances in a newspaper headline — be on the lookout!). Costumes and make-up, especially hair, are cleverly designed to remind you of the difference between squares and dots in every aspect. It is amazing how seemingly simple props and outfits bring the story to life in an effective and holistic manner.
What sets this production apart beyond the story itself, is the stellar performance by the cast and witty dialogue that includes meaningful quotes throughout. From truisms like, “When people are mean, they are afraid,” and, “Questions are not dumb; not asking questions makes you dumb,” to inspirational messages like, “You cannot rehearse being first,” and, “Make history with a small victory,” this show will make your heart swell with motivation to be and do better. Shani Hadjian, as Ms. & Mama Square, is perfectly cast to deliver a touch of humor and empathy as the first woman teacher at the school. Zoe Jensen, as Penelope Square, is over-the-top fantastic as the close-minded villain who represents fear of the unknown and being different. Sky Square, played by Rocky Paterra, and Lily Polkadot, played by Sarah Huff, are what we need more of in this world. Their renditions of their respective songs are delightful. You won’t be able to stop your heart from aching as Lily sings “Sticks & Stones” or smiling when Sky sings “She, in her own way, is perfectly made.” The entire production takes a challenging topic and makes it both compelling and relatable to people of all ages, while adding a perfect touch of humor.
The culmination of the journey focuses on finding solutions through the integration of ideas, with a little bit of magic thrown in for the audience. Polkadots is equal parts sadness, joy, fear, disgust and anger (“Inside Out!”). It shows us the way to a more hopeful future by reminding us that it takes an open mind and courage to “Dare others to be our friend.” Every person, student, and child should go see this show and become a “Sk-w-ot” (square + dot) sooner than later — playing now through Mach 25. Thanks, TCT, for being our hero and bringing such an important production to the Tri-State!
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys and participates in art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection, and delights in spending time with family and friends.