Festival 56 returns with a toe-tapping show for all ages

Review of ‘Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical’

Sunday afternoon I arrived at the Bureau County Metro Center and felt like I was arriving at a block party. The sun was shining, upbeat music was playing on the sound system and a colorful crew dressed in adorable polka dots was there to greet my family. We were handed a goody bag with a beautiful copy of a book titled “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles and told to make sure we stopped by concessions to purchase some delicious ice cream. I could tell that we were in for a treat! We set up our lawn chairs and I embarrassed my kids with my awesome chair dancing. We admired the colorful stage and felt the excitement build as we waited for the return of live theater.

What a return it is! Festival 56 kicks off this season with “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical.” This show is based on an original concept by Douglas Lyons and was developed by a talented team. Melvin Tunstall III, Greg Borowksy and Lyons work together to teach kids how to love one another and to celebrate what makes us all unique. Lyons drew his inspiration from the brave stories of Civil Rights heroes Ruby Bridges and The Little Rock Nine.

We begin at the start of a new school year at Rockaway Elementary. At Rockaway the students are a little different from what you might expect. You see, everyone that lives in this town is square. Their last names are all “Square” and they have blue hair and beautiful blue skin that is adorned with squares. All is well and good until a new student moves to town. Lily Polkadot (Maya Isabella) arrives on the first day of school at Rockaway Elementary ready to make a new friend. The trouble is that Lily does not look like the rest of the residents. She is purple with lovely round circles on her skin. Lily has been warned by her mother that this move might be difficult and take some time for everyone to adjust.

Lily is introduced to the class by her no-nonsense yet caring teacher Mrs. Square (Cheyanne Marie). Lily’s classmates are a squabbling sibling pair. Sky Square (Stephan JoQuan Wilson) is the little brother with the shy disposition and big heart. Penelope Square (Brianna Reed) is the sassy older sister that is repeating the grade. Penelope has trouble with change and has a hard time with Lily’s arrival. Lily is up for the challenge, belting out the song “Sticks and Stones.” Lily’s cheerful disposition in the face of adversity is a beacon of hope for all of us but also kick starts a budding new friendship with Sky Square. Lily realizes that if she can have just “One Pal” things will start looking up.

Back at the Square house that evening we discover just how strongly the Square people feel about people different than themselves. It is then that we really see Sky start to trust in his own heart and to see how “Beautiful” our differences really are.

This one-hour musical directed by Kelli Crump, is an explosion of colors. “Polkadots” is packed full of songs that will make you want to get out of your seat. You are sure to leave this production with a smile on your face and a little extra bounce in your step. The four-person cast is truly talented and will take you on a journey through all the emotions that go along with being excluded and creating new friendships. Get ready to hop out of your lawn chairs and do the “Squa-Dot” with the exuberance of a child or like the grandpa in the front row that busted out his dance moves in front of a stage that celebrates all of us.

“Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical” is playing all summer long at the Bureau Valley Metro Center (837 Park Ave. West, Princeton). Remaining shows are, weather permitting, at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 30, Saturday, July 3, Saturday, July 10, Wednesday, July 14, Sunday, July 18, and Wednesday, July 21.

Tickets are $21, $18 (seniors 65+), $14 for students (11 and up), and $7 for children 10 and under. Go online at festival56.com or call the box office at 815-879-5656, ext. 11. The box office is located in the Grace Theater and is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are also on sale one hour before performances at the ticket booth behind the Bureau County Metro Center.

April Roth is a Western Illinois University graduate with a MA in communication. She lives in rural Tampico with her husband, Keegan, and their four very busy children and our pets. She is a substitute teacher at Bureau Valley. She says she always loved the arts and tries to support them in any way she can.