Review: ‘Ken Roht’s 99-Cent Only Calendar Girl Competition’ @ Bootleg Theater

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‘Pretty ... is only pretty. ... There are a million ways to make a nice physical impression.’ So begins ‘Ken Roht’s 99-Cent Only Calendar Girl Competition’ at the Bootleg Theater. Even longtime fans are unprepared for what follows. Irreverent musical theater visionary Roht achieves absolute synthesis with this marvelous gloss on beauty pageants and the politics of image.

Conceived and created during the presidential election, ‘Competition’ takes the price-conscious aesthetic elements on a runway strut to another realm altogether. Twelve contestants vie for ‘Miss Calendar Girl of 2009,’ as pageant maven Miss Sissy (the incomparable Sissy Boyd) informs us from her Sky-Cam. Their entrance is hilariously hallucinogenic, with peerless designer Ann Closs-Farley collaborating with guest costumers and each extraordinary creation sponsored by a different local entity.


Spurred on and lived through by purple-hued Loved Ones, escorted by tireless Go-Go MCs, these heavenly eyefuls are worth admission, though put-upon Dark Miss Sissy (Uma Nithipalan, vivid as ever) would rather sweep poseurs into the dustbin. Intermission brings about voting in the lobby, amid tally board mayhem that echoes Nov. 4 network coverage. After five semi-finalists roll on in shopping carts, the molecular-slanted Act 2 evolves into hopeful allegory before our bedazzled eyes.

Roht brings purposeful economy to his script, direction and choreography, which cascades along to his and John Ballinger’s delightfully eclectic score, taking in everything from Bollywood to Motown. The designers outdo themselves, Jason Adams’ set, Brandon Baruch’s lighting, John Nobori’s sound and Jim Hickox’s videos all displaying rarified imagination.

The entire cast is sublime, with breathtaking choral blend and an exemplary ensemble ethic. At the reviewed performance, Mark Bringelson’s emcee, Lori Scarlett’s mom and Jabez Zuniga’s Miss August typified their communal expertise. Easily the franchise’s most spectacular entry yet, ‘Competition’s’ not just a fabulous show -- it’s a full-blown movement.

--David C. Nichols

Ken Roht’s 99-Cent Only Calendar Girl Competition,’ Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Dark Dec. 21 through Jan. 7. Ends Feb. 1. $25. (213) 389-3856. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.