EVIDENCE ROOM and ORPHEAN CIRCUS
PEACE SQUAD GOES 99
The Greatest 99¢ Only Story Ever Told, EVER!
King Crustie – Kirk Wilson
Mayor – Raul Clayton Staggs
Timmy – Brandon Roht
Hollow Mirror Man – Mark Bringleson
Raul Clayton Staggs
Brenda Varda - swing
Jamison Haase - swing
Peace Squad Moms
Kat Meyer Smith
November 27 – December 19, 2004
As someone who generally considers the average musical comedy to be a failure in both categories, it is a great relief to report that Peace Squad Goes 99 is a giddy success. Orphean Circus bills this latest incarnation of its 99¢ Only Stores concept (all costumes and sets created using items from the 99¢ Only Stores) as one that attempts an actual storyline.
Inasmuch as it’s an attempt, that’s an accurate statement. As far as it being an actual story, the less said, the better. Peace Squad Goes 99 finds the loopy boy-band warriors for peace, love, and understanding coming to the rescue of 99¢ Only Village as it’s beset by the evil machinations of the Hollow Mirror Man. But, really, that’s just an excuse for lots and lots of boy-band-style white-boy pop-funk, Wonder Bread-rapping, and ’70s Korean pop.
A very loving parody of every boy-band cliche – from the Osmonds and the Jackson 5 to Boyz II Men and *NSYNC – Peace Squad’s seven members cover the tween-girl fantasy waterfront: There’s Mike, the dangerous one with facial hair and a bit of East Coast attitude; Breck, with model looks and hair; and pubescent Chris ("I’m Chris! And I’m 15!"); and more. The spoof would be devastating if it weren’t so earnest and affectionate. Plus, these guys can sing.
Writer/director/choreographer Ken Roht (also Peace Squad member Kenny) and composer John Ballinger craft songs and dance moves that are simultaneously hilarious and gorgeous. Couple that with Ann Closs Farley’s Froot Loops-colored, Transformers-by-way-of-South-Korean-riot-police and Thriller-period Michael Jackson costumes for the boys, and you’ve got pure candy for the eyes and ears. Other designers contribute equally lush references in their costumes with layers of plastic tablecloths, potholders, and fabric flowers. In the occasional slow moments, you can amuse yourself by estimating the costume budget (at 99¢ an item!).
Mark Bringleson brings a creepy intensity to the Hollow Mirror Man’s songs, and his backup singers (Jessica Hanna, Liz Guillams, Hope Levy, and Emma Barton) produce soaring harmonies while looking like the Andrews Sisters after a long night at Marilyn Manson’s house. The Peace Squad Moms are Valkyrie stage mothers with a soft spot for their boys, and their shopping-cart entrance left me desperate to see more four-wheeled choreography.
Peace and a mother’s love are about as deep as it gets here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a nod to community and the shallowness of consumption, but the lyrics don’t get much more complicated than "You’re riding with the Peace Squad/It’s exciting with the Peace Squad/Sugar sugar sugar." And that’s lovely. What’s really on this production’s mind is pure pleasure.
As much as we may look for nutritional value in our art – and critics are the guiltiest when it comes to seeking out the what-have-we-learned moment – there shouldn’t have to be an excuse for the essential joy of being entertained. Peace Squad makes none.
It doesn’t really have any to make. Sure, they ought to lose the cute kids (that’s as close as I get to a theatrical maxim); the backing track overwhelms the singing in the opening number; and any time not spent singing is a moment wasted. But any garishly designed, campy, high-energy show that can leave you slack-jawed over the sheer beauty of a Korean folk song has nothing to apologize for.
Plus, they throw beach balls into the audience, and you get to throw them back. And did I mention the bar? I mentioned the bar, right? – Patrick Corcoran
Just when you think you can’t have a holiday show without the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, in swirls the Orphean Circus with Peace Squad Goes 99 – The Greatest 99¢ Only Story Ever Told ... Ever! This is the latest in a sequence of 99¢ Only shows, in which the set and costumes are made solely from items purchased at 99¢ Only Stores. The show recounts the tale of the evil Hollow Mirror Man's attempt to take over the 99centonlyvillage – a sweet little town suspiciously like Munchkinland - and how he is thwarted by our heroes, the Peace Squad!
The costumes are everything you’d imagine and more, with the 99centonlyvillage’s mayor wearing a top hat made entirely of straws and a corsage of plastic silverware.
There are corsets made of packs of multicolored marking pens, strategically-placed oven mitts, tablecloths, shower curtains and unidentifiable (possibly inflatable) plastic things everywhere. The costumes are too bright, too shiny and too colorful, and writer/director/choreographer Ken Roht has ingeniously paired them with a story that’s just as shiny and bright. The Peace Squad are the sort of heroes you’d expect on a Sid & Marty Krofft Sunday morning show: the Hollow Mirror Man is the sort of villain who threatens to "scare you till you pee-pee," and the songs range from Korean pop to a rap about the wonders of everything you can buy at a 99¢ Only Store (including Top Ramen: "The best way to eat it is to use a spork!"). It’s overblown squeaky-clean enthusiasm to the nth degree – a G-rated version of the West Hollywood Halloween parade.
The Greatest 99¢ Only Story ... isn’t perfect. The show relies an awful lot on references to previous 99¢ Only shows. If you haven’t seen them, you might feel like you’re missing the joke. The Evidence Room’s sound system leaves something to be desired; many lyrics are completely lost, leaving you with the impression that there was a good deal of funny stuff you would have enjoyed, had you heard it. But you don’t see a show like Peace Squad Goes 99 for the details; it’s all about the overkill. – Sharon Perlmutter
Writer / Director-Choreographer /Co-Composer – Ken Roht
Co-Composer / Arranger – John Ballinger
Korean pop tracks – Marc Jackson
Korean vocal arrangements – Curtis Heard
Korean music consultant – Cathy Woo
Rap lyrics – Erik Patterson
Musical Director – Brenda Varda
Scenic Designer – Keith Mitchell, Jason & Alicia Adams
Lighting Designer – Alain Jourdenais
Lead Costume Designer – Ann Closs-Farley
Costume Designers – Barbara Lempel, Anthony Garcia, Henry Soyos,
Audrey Fisher, Cynthia Herteg, Miguel Montalvo, and Mark Cromwell
Specialty props – Kirk Wilson, Stephen H. Roche
99¢ Only sign – Karen Steward
Sound Designer – Chris Grote
Assistant Director – Erica Rice
Stage Manager – Mike Mendizabal
Assistant Stage Manager – Scarlett E. Riley
Assistant Choreographers – Jennifer Li, Jessica Hanna, Will Watkins
Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright & Bradford Bissey
Jayne Amelia Larson
Laural Meade - swing