EVIDENCE ROOM and MR & MRS KICKASS
'ROUTE 99': ORANGE STAR DINNER SHOW!
December 1, 2005 – January 29, 2006
Los Angeles Times
"Happy eatin’, ever’body," says Orange Star (actor-chef Michael Dunn) of Route 99: Orange Star Dinner Show, and believe me, she means it. By whipping the surefire ingredients of this annual festival of budget-savvy bedazzlement at the Evidence Room into dinner theater action and peanut gallery voyeurism, subversive magus Ken Roht and a fabulous service crew dish up a sublime franchise benchmark.
As ever, 99 Cents Only Store items provide decor, wardrobe and in-jokes. While maitre d’ Florence (Kirk Wilson), in tablecloth chic and Rosemary Clooney hair, herds diners inside, marching band imps Colleen Kane and Jamie Hebert hustle dieters through the kitchen.
Both groups descend on a psychotropic playing area, bisected by set designer Keith Mitchell, video designer David Lee Kelting and sound designer Chris Grote into a Dadaist salute to Dollywood. Once Bosco Flanagan’s lighting locates frustrated Yellow Moon (Joe Fria), the cast, clad in the extraordinary creations of designers Ann Closs-Farley (costumes) and Mark Crowell (wigs), belts out "Why Oh Why, Wyoming" ("Why not?").
Mama (Laural Meade), who suggests a singing eggplant, introduces her "lucky charms." Besides Yellow Moon and Orange Star, jealous Green Clover (Jabez Zuniga) nurses sibling rivalry worthy of Bette Davis.
As the gallery watches, Mean Fillies and Happy Chappies keep Roht’s choreography galloping about the helpless eaters, to Roht and John Ballinger’s Nashville-centric score, under Graham Jackson’s musical direction. Sissy Boyd’s garbled Ramblin’ Rita, Ian Rotundo’s show tune-screeching Corky and Don Oscar Smith’s canine fancier are among the standouts in a fantastic ensemble.
Their frenzy peaks at the climactic "Who Killed Her?" verbal fugue and the agreeably hokey "This Land Is My Home" finale. Such unleashed ingenuity, which rivals The Drowsy Chaperone and J.O.B., makes Route 99 the most nourishing spread in town. – David C. Nichols
Now in their fourth year, writer-director-choreographer Ken Roht’s 99-Cent Only extravaganzas have become a holiday-season tradition. The shows’ design elements are derived entirely from the cheesy but colorful bric-a-brac one finds in local 99-Cent Only stores, inspiring costumer Ann Closs-Farley and set designer Keith Mitchell to giddy creative heights. Meanwhile, Roht’s productions – bargain-basement in budget only – adhere to the auteur’s trademark mix of heady surrealism, marvelously inventive choreography, unabashed camp, and delightful whimsy. This year he hit upon affectionately spoofing the near-extinct dinner theatre phenomenon, particularly the unsophisticated but crowd-pleasing operations that once dotted the rural landscape of Middle America. This milieu proves a perfect fit with Roht’s imaginative 99-Cent motif, resulting in a wonderfully zany piece of fluffy family entertainment.
The driving force for this endeavor is Michael Dunn, who takes the gender-bending role of Orange Star, brassy headlining diva of the fictional Wyoming entertainment spot, and serves as behind-the-scenes chef. The actor calls upon his skills as a moonlighting caterer, ensuring that audience members who pay a higher admission can sit at dining tables in front of the stage, while the performers dash in and out, serving them cheese-filled ’taters,’ Southwest succotash, and other home-cooked delicacies, introduced by jaunty ditties such as "Salad Song" and "Dessert Song." Other songs in the funny score by Roht and John Ballinger, such as a number with stick-figure horses and another about tough Western babes ("Mean Fillies"), provide witty send-ups of saloon-style cabaret revues. Some tunes advance the miniscule story about the red-hot Mama (Laural Meade) who runs the joint and her dysfunctional family – including Orange Star, her squabbling sibling Green Clover (Jabez Zuniga in drag), and their directionless, misunderstood brother Yellow Moon (Joe Fria), a budding inventor. Roht throws in a hilarious curve ball midway through, when the piece briefly turns into a spoof of the popular murder-mystery dinner theatre genre. He caps the evening with a rousing finale that encompasses snippets from such Western-set musicals as Oklahoma! and Paint Your Wagon.
The 24-member ensemble makes the most of the gleefully nutty material, as its sense of fun spreads like wildfire through the audience. The visual elements are breathtaking, and the fast-paced hourlong show is a nonstop delight. I passed on the culinary aspects, preferring to appraise the show from the more advantageous perspective of general audience seating, but from comments overheard, it appears the cuisine is as deliciously satisfying as the performance. – Les Spindle
Writer / Director-Choreographer / Co-Composer – Ken Roht
Co-Composer / Arranger – John Ballinger
Don Oscar Smith
Kat Meyer Smith
Raul Clayton Staggs
and Michael Dunn
as Orange Star
Set Designer – Keith Mitchell
Lead Costume Designer – Ann Closs-Farley
Lighting Designer – Bosco Flanagan
Musical Director – Graham Jackson
Assistant Choreographer – Jennifer Li
Sound Design – Chris Grote
Video Design – David Lee Kelting
Wig Design – Mark Crowell
Costume Artists – Andy Dobson, Anthony Garcia, Walker Rollins,
Steve Roche & Kirk Wilson, Audrey Fisher, Isabelle Adams & Alicia Hoge, Tina Zimmerman & Ruby McCollister, Joanie Rotundo, Jim Rotundo, Friar McCollister, Alex Cruz, Desiree Richard
Stage Manager – Jenny Patel
Kitchen Crew – Chef Michael Dunn, Alexander Brown, Jason Myers
Producers – Jessica Hanna & Michael Dunn, Ken Roht, Bart DeLorenzo
Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright