By Gwen Rice, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Mar 10, 2020 at 5:01 PM

Are you ready to rock? If so, then come down to the Marcus Center for First Stage’s world premiere musical, "The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors," and cheer for your favorite competitor in a series of epic battles for backyard domination. Adapted from the children’s book of the same name by Drew Daywalt, the simple story about a popular finger game has been transformed into a ’70s-era musical that’s part dance-off and part professional wrestling tournament, where each character longs for a matchup that truly tests their abilities. 

Director Kelly Doherty, seen onstage recently in "Matilda" and "Elf," translates her flair for comedy as a performer into clever, energetic direction that keeps the fun in "The Legend of Rock, Paper Scissors" front and center. With an entertaining script by former First Stage Academy director John Maclay and consistently impressive music by award-winning Portland, Oregon-area composer Eric Nordin, the co-commissioned work for families and children hits all the right notes as the three main characters work their way to a final, fantastic showdown.

Our narrator for this series of smackdowns, The Announcer, is patterned after TV personalities from the 1970s, complete with plaid three-piece suit, tinted brown shades and a long skinny microphone. In the "chicken nugget" cast, the dynamic young performer Eloise Field did the honors, keeping the audience engaged and on the edge of our seats as she set up each bout, rocked out playing air guitar and bantered with the warriors. 

Making a grand entrance, the reigning champion Rock (Rick Pendzich) took the stage first, looking like the long-lost, hard-as-granite, completely spherical member of the band KISS. With a lot of purple spandex, black platform boots and black lipstick to match, his anthem "Rock Star" kick-started the crowd. Pendzich is sublime as the pebble with a boulder’s ego, and his agile voice is perfectly paired with his hard rockin’ numbers. 

Predictably, Rock’s warm-up round dueling a lovely ripe peach (Naima Gaines) wasn’t much of a contest. Challenging him to a line-dancing contest while performing "The Georgia Shuffle," the perky fruit was "smooshed" by some fancy footwork. Next up, Rock demolished a cocky Clothespin (Sydney Kirkegaard), who spun around the stage on her rollerblades while holding tight to her charge – a truly enormous pair of men’s tighty-whities, which were twisted, twirled and lifted like a parachute in a complicated, comical dance number.

Like the massive men’s briefs, the humor of the show has quite a few references to butts and bathroom behavior, but it’s mostly good clean fun. 

The next warrior to appear is Paper (Lamar Jefferson), wearing a flowing white cape, a paperclip pendant and familiar blue lines across his chest. From inside Mom’s Home Office, he is also looking for an adversary after he quickly and tunefully dispatches his arch-enemy, a computer printer. He jams the colossal machine while jamming out and then takes on a half-eaten bag of trail mix that rules the nearby trashcan. Jefferson’s Paper is not just a cool dude with smooth moves and a dynamite singing voice; he also does battle with the most complex and impressive puppets in the show. Assembled, articulated and voiced by the young performers, seeing these office dwellers come to life is worth the price of admission. Kudos to the actors and puppet designer Brandon Kirkham for personifying the objects so brilliantly.

The final warrior is Scissors, played with bold bravura by Karen Estrada. Covered in silver spandex, Estrada’s legs are transformed to blades, and these fabric scissors make short work of any competition from the junk drawer. As she sings the upbeat Latin number, "No One Like Me," the audience recognizes that she is yet another determined competitor who is looking for a challenge. Scissors not only dispatches a bag of dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets from the freezer, she prevails in another impressive dance off – this time tap dancing with a Scottish tape dispenser (the fantastically funny Kirkegaard in another role).

And when the three previously unbeatable competitors finally meet? There is a nice lesson about playing for fun instead of playing to win. 

The set, designed by Arnold Buseo, is a cross between a highly produced pop concert and a glimpse of the outdoors on a macro scale. On each side of a rainbow colored arch, enormous blades of grass on the set’s edges remind us that much of this glam rock show takes place under trees, next to clotheslines and around the sandbox of a typical family backyard. Jason Fassl’s full-on rock concert lighting amps up the production, as it swirls across the stage and out into the audience. Choreography by First Stage favorite Molly Rhode is impressive and inventive in many different dance styles, and expertly executed by the cast. But the technical stand out star of the show is definitely the over-the-top costumes and puppets by Kirkham. They are an intensely colorful, creative marvel. 

In collaboration with Oregon Children’s Theatre, First Stage has brought another notable kid’s book to the stage with flair, celebrating the source material and building on it to the delight of audiences large and small.