The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors At First Stage

A legend has got to start somewhere!

screen capture for the First Stage website

This is just a rocking full on depiction of many a young persons imagination. Silly characters, seemingly fraught one on one confrontations, and music and dance to warm anyone’s heart…and get those toes tapping under the Marcus Center Todd Wehr Theater’s seats (mine were). And quite literally this musical had the kids jumping up and down in their seats. What a fun accomplishment for these players and this theater company.

The backstory? We have the featured three protagonists or champions or eventual opponents…all facing down other characters on their home turf. After not finding anyone able to ‘challenge’ them, they move on from their comfort zones…until the three of them…Rock, Paper, and Scissors square off and find out exactly how the game rock, paper, and scissors works. It’s an amazing journey. And I won’t give away the other characters that they face or how they eventually defeat them. And a legend has to start somewhere!

But besides our three ‘heroes’, we also have the MC who leads us through the story and fills us in on any of the action that they think we might miss…including a number of dad jokes that provoke the requisite number of giggles!

Max Larson (center) and cast in THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

As you can see from the photos that I’ve selected to accompany this article, this is just simply a fun combination of disco, Vegas, futuristic, Sci-fi, wrestling, and Soul costuming…I haven’t see just such a collection of patent leather shoes or lame’ material in years. Completely in sync with the show tunes vibe that The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors maintains for 70 solid minutes. So a special hats off to Jenny Thurnau, Costume Shop Manager for bringing this all together.

Karen Estrada (center) and cast in THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And as you can see the lighting and imaginative stage really supports the tone and whimsy of the songs and book for this play! Kudos to Jason Fassl, Lighting Designer and Arnold Bueso, Scenic Designer.

And what I said about kids bouncing in their seats was absolutely true…the cast and play totally reach youngsters where they live! And I saw a number of family groups playing rock, paper, scissor as we walked along the Marcus Center grounds on the way to our transportation. The story has ‘legs’.

The highlight of the show that I attended was the MC (Max Larson ) asking a rhetorical question…how do you spell pterodactyl? But before he could answer himself, a young audience member just went ahead and started spelling it aloud. Bravo!! I won’t tell you the dad joke that follows, but Max wasn’t quite able to deliver that punchline before his audience did! What sheer fun!

My other big plaudit goes out to choreographer Molly Rhode who had a lot of different songs and tempos to deal with, a large cast and ‘chorus’, and special one on one dance moves during the various ‘battle scenes’! It all fit and worked far more smoothly that I would have expected with all of the players involved.

Daisha Lafford and Rick Pendzich in THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But none of this would have worked without the amazing staging by Director Kelly Doherty and of course the story, lyrics, and music from John Maclay and Eric Norden.

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors runs at the Marcus Center through April 3, 2022 and is recommended for theatergoers aged FOUR and older!!

Here is the Link to First Stage for more information and please pay attention to their current COVID protocols.

Oh goodness gracious, I almost forgot Paper!

Austin Nelson, Jr. in THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And last but not least: extra credit reading: The Playbill!


Milwaukee, WI – February 15, 2022 – First Stage is delighted to announce that its next mainstage production will be THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, a world premiere co-commission with Oregon Children’s Theatre, which originally premiered in March of 2020. The production features clever, original music from classic rock to dance pop as well as fantastical costumes, sets and puppets that will entertain the entire family. Based on the bestselling book by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Adam Rex, First Stage Resident Playwright John Maclay wrote the book and lyrics and Eric Nordin wrote the music and lyrics. Choreography is by First Stage alum Molly Rhode and popular Milwaukee actor Kelly Doherty will direct. Kelly made her First Stage directing debut when the play premiered in 2020, but that run was cut short due to the pandemic. Kelly, along with the creative team of THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS and all of First Stage, is eager to share this delightful production and its infectious joy with audience members once again.  

In THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, three fierce warriors return to the stage for a rematch after their brief battle was cut short in March 2020. From the Kingdom of Backyard came Rock, from the Empire of Mom’s Home Office came Paper, and from a messy village in the Junk Drawer Realm came Scissors. They were the strongest, smartest and fastest in all the land. Though they searched far and wide for worthy opponents, no one could beat them . . . until they met each other and a musical battle royale began to see who would come out on top! Sponsored by Molitor FoundationPerformance run time is approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 4+. 

courtesy of First Stage!!

THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS runs March 5 – April 3, 2022 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at

A fun, family-friendly world premiere musical about friendship, bravery and teamwork- 

The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 Presented By First Stage!

The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 is a gem of a play and Milwaukee is fortunate to have it!

So, first we meet the Watsons, a loving couple with three children. The prototypical early 1960s Midwest American Family…except that they are Black. And that is the crucial key that makes this drama significant. No, they aren’t the Cleavers but at the family level we see that their goals, dreams, challenges, and struggles are exactly the same as every other American family. But they also have to somehow manage the added stress of racism in America. Stress and trials that an aged white man like myself thinks he understands but doesn’t actually comprehend until shown…and shown very effectively in he Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963.

The Watson’s live in Flint Michigan and have a typical rebellious 13 year old son, Byron, and the youngest daughter, Joey, who doesn’t yet understand all of the nuances of language and often takes things as literal. And Kenny, the nine year old on the cusp of 10, whose story is being told here…whose perspective is adult to a point but he gets lost in his ability to feel the emotions swirling around him.

Krystal Drake (front, left) and Sherrick Robinson (front, far right); Zephaniah Singh Ponder, Paisley Luna, and Michael Loomans (back, left to right) in THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM -1963. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But as Mama and Daddy Watson grow more concerned about Byron’s casual school attendance and lying to meet his buddies rather than study, the decision is made that he should spend the summer with his maternal grandmother in Birmingham Alabama. So Mama makes elaborate plans for a safe trip from Flint to Birmingham…a family adventure. And an adventure it proves to be…as Mama packs lunches and blankets and pillows for a three day trip…and Daddy has a surprise…a record player for 45s has been installed in the car…and a selection of each family member’s favorite record is included. The resulting family interplay will elicit a number of comical moments and an interesting view into family dynamics and the individual personalities!

But now the story gets more interesting as the customary environment of 1960s Michigan gives way to the realities of the 1963 South. And the children start to encounter signs and symbols that aren’t familiar to them and that aren’t common artifacts of their lives in Flint. It is at this point that the realities of racism explain themselves to Kenny Watson and to the rest of us.

Well, all of Mama’s best laid plans go to waste when Daddy drives straight through to Birmingham. The why and wherefore and the dynamics behind that you need to experience as you watch this play.

Cynthia Cobb and Zephaniah Singh Ponder (front), and Paisley Luna and Krystal Drake (back) in THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM -1963. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But when we meet Grandma Sands, you have to wonder how this excited and loving old lady is expected to straighten out Byron! She is so full of life and giving toward her family and particularly her grandchildren. But that happy is balanced by a number of events that I won’t elaborate on because I don’t want to spoil the story. But Byron pulls through and shows that he is ready to be an adult and that he does value family despite his actions as a typical 13 year old. And Kenny bears witness to a number of truths…this is 1963 in Birmingham Alabama after all and we are in the middle of the Civil Rights era.

My hat’s off to Sherrick Robinson who play’s Daddy. He is able to express his love and appreciation of his wife through his actions and glances. And although he talks a tough game and is concerned, he finds it hard to discipline a misbehaving Byron despite knowing that he needs to. And he clearly demonstrates the issues around racism while simultaneously trying to shield Kenny from it yet trying to prepare him for it. Mr. Robinson moves through those various different positions to perfection.

And Zephaniah Singh Ponder as Kenny was also incredible in moving from a fearful youngster to a brave young man as he struggled with things he didn’t understand and things he triumphed over but couldn’t quite assimilate. I was glad to see a presentation with his crew in performance.

And Mama! Played by Krystal Drake also exhibited her love for her husband plus show us her concern and nurturing nature for her children. And of course her clear organizational skills in preparing the trip to Birmingham!

And kudos to the set designer and stage managers who transformed the Todd Wehr stage from a Flint living room to a family sedan to a swimming hole in Birmingham with minimum props and clever use of paint and lighting.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 is based on a book by Christopher Paul Curtis which was adapted by Cheryl L. West. Co-directors are Brandite Reed and Jeff Frank and original music by Paris Ray Dozier.

There are two casts. Each includes the same adults actors in the adult roles, but depending on when you attend the children’s roles may be different. Here is the play guide with additional information include casts listings and actor bios!

And go a bit early so that you can enjoy some great 1960s R&B music while you wait for the curtain!

The play runs through February 13, 2022 and information on times and tickets are here! There are COVID safety policies in force so check the link ^^ for current information. And although First Stage features theater for young people (this play is recommended for those 8 and older), this play is pertinent for everyone…and you need to see it.

Ryon Davis, Sherrick Robinson, Ryon Davis and Amira Harris in THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM -1963. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.