By Mary Boyle
Almost exactly two years ago, I headed off to the Todd Wehr Theater in Milwaukee, as I had done countless times over the prior five years, to review a performance by First Stage, Milwaukee's premier theatre company for young people and their families. Little did I know that it would be the last major indoor theatre performance in Milwaukee I would be seeing for the next two years. The production I saw was the World Premiere of THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, and I thought it was brilliant; but, before I could write the review, First Stage announced, like so many other theatre companies, that it was shutting down the production because of the pandemic. Two years later, almost to the day, I finally made my way back to Todd Wehr Theater to see this hysterical little musical, based on the book by Drew Daywalt (author of The Day the Crayons Quit), and I still think it is brilliant.
The story is the imagined origin of a game we all have played: Rock, Paper, Scissors; as told by the narrator and the three "warriors" who long to meet their match and worthy opponent in battle. John Maclay, who wrote the book and lyrics and is a Resident Playwright at First Stage, is a master at turning children's books into children's theatre, several of which have been produced at First Stage, including Anatole, Nancy Drew and her Biggest Case Ever, and Nate the Great. In the case of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Maclay and partner, Eric Nordin, who wrote the music and lyrics, kept all of the brilliant pro-wrestling drama and butt-joke humor of the book and brought it to life on the stage (complete with giant underpants), but added plenty of dad jokes and nods to adult pop culture that make this children's musical every bit as entertaining to the parents and grandparents in the theater.
Thankfully, much of the original cast and crew from the first run were able to return to this season's production, including Director Kelly Doherty, who you may remember as Miss Trunchbull in the First Stage production of Matilda the Musical. I really can't tell which actor I love more, but both Rick Pendzich, as Rock, and Karen Estrada, as Scissors, are Milwaukee gems who give absolutely inspired and hysterically funny performances. Each warrior (Rock, Paper, and Scissors, as well as others) has a musical genre attached to them and, of course, Rock is what might happen if Gene Simmons of Kiss and a boulder had a love child. Scissors, meanwhile, has a Flamenco flair and Paper, played this season by Austin Nelson, Jr., is straight R&B. I would be remiss if I didn't note Sidney Kirkegaard's performance as Roll of Tape in Plastic Dispenser. You just have to see it.
As our warriors search out worthy opponents through such places as the Land of Backyard and Mom's Home Office, their story is helped along by the Announcer (Eloise Field in the Chicken Nugget Cast and Max Larson in the Trail Mix Cast, who were both in the original), as well as a cast of young performers (Young Performer roles are double cast. Trail Mix Cast includes: Aiden Toth, Daisha Lafford (as Peach), Rebekah Michel, Costello Mylott, Sailor Ames, Greta Carlson, Vivian Madson and Evie Patrick. Chicken Nugget Cast includes: Abram Nelson, Naima Gaines (as Peach); Josephine Van Slyk, Kyra Mathias, Annie Sturtz, Ryan Bennett, Lucy Irwin and Eloise Bejma.).
THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS is a delightful introduction to musical theatre for kids between the ages of 4 and 12 and the perfect performance for the whole family to enjoy. This production runs through April 3rd at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater, located at at 929 North Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are available at https://www.firststage.org/ or by calling (414) 267-2961.
Special events for THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS
Pay What You Choose Performance: Friday, March 11, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.
Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early. To learn more visit: firststage.org/events-tickets/tickets-offers/pay-what-you-choose/
Sensory Friendly Performance: Saturday, March 12, 2022 at 4 p.m.
A Sensory Friendly Performance with accommodations for families with children on the autism spectrum will take place on Saturday, March 12 at 4 p.m. Sensory accommodations include lower sound, house lights up, a quiet area staffed by an educator experienced with the care of students on the autism spectrum and other developmental differences, and more. Tickets for Sensory Friendly Performances are $10. Order by phone at (414) 267-2961, weekdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. to reserve tickets. To learn more visit: firststage.org/plan-your-visit/sensory-friendly-performances/.
ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, April 3, 2022 at 4:00 p.m.
This performance will be sign language interpreted for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Assistive listening devices are also available at the Todd Wehr Theater. To learn more visit:
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves nearly 2,000 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012) and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).