July 10, 2021
Polkadots perfection in playful performance
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
What a grand setting for a summer season of theatrical delights. Musicals, comedies, children’s theatre – it truly does await all under the protective canvas of this innovative venue. The big tent is raised, securely dominating the Playhouse parking lot with the time-honored appeal that any big tent in a community creates. Refreshing breezes passing through, comforting the audience. Add great shows, and you in the audience, and the stage truly is set.
The Des Moines Community Playhouse has few peers nationally, and we in Central Iowa are blessed to have such a dynamic leading force to produce its range of programming for us. One of the nation’s best in its field, the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre launches its first official show in a lo-o-o-ong time: Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical. This one-hour, no-intermission delight runs each Saturday morning through August 7. If anyone reading this has children, grandchildren or neighborhood children, this is a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.
This upbeat show was conceived by Douglas Lyons, who wrote its lyrics and co-wrote the music with Greg Borowsky. Melvin Tunstall III wrote the book. Polkadots is anchored by its lesson of learning to value a person for their character, and not by their appearance. This creative team developed an appealing story with songs to engage young audiences, and even remind adults that its core lesson is something we all should be reminded of from time to time.
Director Peter Dean and Musical Director Tina Haase-Findlay put this show’s talented quartet of performers through their paces in this highly energized production. Filled with plenty of stage action and dancing (thanks to Choreographer Antonesia Williams’ fine work), plus plenty of vocal feature work by the performers, this show clips along in captivating fashion as the story unfolds.
The story effortlessly ebbs and flows, giving each performer featured scenes and moments in its “use your imagination” scenic design by Alex Snodgrass. His use of adaptable stage blocks, wheeled tables and easily movable set pieces keep the audience’s attention, especially its primary audience of young patrons. Sky Square (played with versatile verve by Marquis Bundy) and his sister, Penelope Square (given entitled sass by Kaelen Bohn) provide the epicenter of conflict. Sky is understanding, Penelope tends towards steamrolling others. Ms. Square (with Lexus Thiessen capturing the fluid nature of a teacher, who also doubles in other scenes as Mama Square) shows how people can evolve into more open-minded understanding when new student, Lily Polkadot, is introduced on the first day of a new school year. As Lily, Ashlyn Yu brings a peacemaker sensibility to the unwarranted conflict she receives from Penelope as she tries to adapt to a new school and a new community. Penelope is not nearly as gracious. Sky and Lily find common bonds, which Penelope resists.
The songs are constructed for young audiences, with direct lyrics and light tunes. They elevate the story, and provide the layering of acting, singing and dancing that bring Polkadots to a special level of appeal. Yu delivers her songs with a strong, clear pop singing voice. Bundy provides the lower register variance, especially during the group numbers. Bohn’s strong voice reflects her domineering character’s personality, and Thiessen’s melodious singing carries her work nicely. All are draped in Costume Designer/Properties Designer Angela Lampe’s theatrical magic, bringing all the visual elements together.
Polkadots is a charming introduction for young initiates to the wondrous world of performance. They will be able to understand and identify with what they see, from Bundy’s excellently conscientious Sky, to Bohn’s attitude and its shift, to Yu’s challenged graciousness, and to Thiessen’s willingness to become more open-minded. Many good conversations will evolve after the final, participatory dance – join in. You will undoubtedly dance your way out of this show with fond memories.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.