‘Brand New Kid’ Teaches Timeless Lesson

On Oct. 26, the Irvine Barclay Theatre opened its doors for a rush of pitter-pattering of little feet. Unlike its usual attending theater rats and social elites, this particular gang came from areas as far as Sesame Street or as close as Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.
In fact, most of them couldn’t drive or even see over the top of a steering wheel. However, the lack of self-transportation did not stop these small travelers from attending the opening night of ‘The Brand New Kid,’ a musical adapted from Katie Couric’s popular children’s novel.
The play explores the meaning of fitting in and teaches children about the values of embracing individuality. Lazlo S. Gasky, a 7-year-old from Hungary, has just started his first day of elementary school in America and faces the dilemma of being ostracized as ‘the new kid in school.’ His accent, his bright blonde hair and his ability to win the affection of both his teachers and a malicious cafeteria lady further establishes Gasky’s status as an outcast among his peers.
Bullied and ignored daily, Gasky questions his motives for staying in the unwelcoming atmosphere of Brookhaven until one day a fellow classmate, Ellie McSnelly, extends him an offer of friendship. From then on, Gasky and McSnetty develop a relationship where both must face and learn from the difficulties of prejudice and hate.
For an adult, watching this play is like revisiting painful childhood memories; for children, it may be a reflection of what they go through everyday.
Though the set is designed with colorful paper cutouts and brightly made costumes, the message of the play is plainly stated in black and white: we all fear that which we don’t understand. Schoolyard bullying and segregation often lead to painful memories of feeling out of place, especially if one is from another culture.
A particularly focused idea behind the musical is that discrimination is not only encountered by adults, but among children as well.
Kids can definitely be cruel in their own way and with bullies like Ricky and Peter stalking the blacktops, facing one’s adversary becomes even more difficult without a hometown advantage.
However, with Ellie’s friendship, Gasky soon learns that acceptance is also possible when there are those who are willing to open their minds to understanding one another.
Like every good musical, there are a few catchy tunes. Several numbers featured throughout the play carried an upbeat melody to reflect their upbeat message. Various styles of dancing and stage props also followed each song and the overall presentation was bright and cheerfully displayed.
One particular character that brought screams of joy to the throng of mini-thespians that night was ‘Doodle,’ Gasky’s talking pet poodle. Approval of ‘Doodle’s’ performance came in the form of laughter and cheer as the life size mutt eloquently rhymed strings of words to his name such as ‘noodle’ and ‘strudel.’
‘The Brand New Kid’ succeeds in persuading its young audience to realize that being different is OK and that being yourself is always the best way to be.