The little girl's skin is covered in polka dots. All the other students have squares.
Douglas Lyons could easily have made his story a tale of race relations but decided to take a different tack in "Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical."
New Venture Theatre will show local audiences Lyons' way of looking at things when his musical opens Friday, March 2, in LSU's Claude L. Shaver Theatre.
"This play was published last year, and we're the first theater group in the South to perform it," says Greg Williams Jr., founder and artistic director of New Venture. "It looks at being different in the abstract, through shapes rather than race."
"Polkadots" was inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges, who in 1960 became the first African-American student to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
The scene in "Polkadots" will be lighter, when Lily, a dot, enrolls in a school of square kids. Hope Landor plays Lily. The story focuses on her interaction with two of the squares, Penelope, played by Allison Blumenthal, and Sky, played by Christian Jones.
Sky's mom, Mama Square, played by Brandy Johnson, is hesitant about her son's blooming friendship with Lily. Johnson also plays the teacher, Mrs. Square, who encourages diversity in the school.
"I modeled the teacher after Barbara Henry, the teacher who was so instrumental in helping Ruby Bridges," Johnson says. "She is a great example."
But Mama Square, like so many moms, is protective.
"She's not sure about this change, and she wants to protect her child," Johnson says. "So, she doesn't encourage it. In playing both the mother and teacher roles, I'm looking at both ends of the spectrum."
Written as a children's musical, the play also appeals to adults.
"The playwright is a friend of mine, who was in Carole King's Broadway musical, 'Beautiful,'" Williams says. "I learned about 'Polkadots' on Facebook. It was blowing up everywhere, and it uses this abstract world to teach kids that we're more alike than different. Adults will enjoy the story and music as much as the kids."
Accompanied by a recorded track, the musical runs about an hour. New Venture has partnered with D'Jay's Institute of Cosmetology & Esthiology, which is designing colorful wigs.
"They'll also be airbrushing the dots and squares on the actors," Williams says.
Big, colorful sets complete the transformation to the "Polkadots" world, where adult actors play 8- and 9-year-old kids.
"I'm an elementary school teacher," Blumenthal says. "I've taught kindergarten through second grade, so it's been fun for me to play on the behavior of my students. My character is more like the bratty, older sister — the mean girl."
'Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical'
A New Venture Theatre production
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 2; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3.
WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre, LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive.
TICKETS/INFO: $20; $15, students with ID and groups of 10 or more with advance ticket purchase. (225) 588-7576 or newventuretheatre.org.