Written by Joel Paley
Directed by Marvin Laird
The title evokes images of vintage Hollywood melodramas. And indeed, RUTHLESS! pays campily affectionate tribute to a host of female-driven cult classics like Mildred Pierce, All About Eve and The Bad Seed. Send-ups of Broadway culture and mid-century kitsch are tossed into the mix as well, resulting in an onslaught of hip lampoonery that rarely slackens over the course of two acts. The show’s success is largely due to the fact that lyricist/librettist Joel Paley and composer Marvin Laird have wisely chosen to string their satirical conceits on a coherent – if wacky- plotline.
In picket-fence suburbia, housewife Judy Denmark (Kim Maresca) enjoys a life of perfect contentment. Although she never seems to know where Mr. Denmark is, she keeps blissfully busy looking after her precocious daughter Tina (Tori Murray). Tina exhibits both talent and ambition far beyond her years, and has caught the eye of acting guru Sylvia St. Croix (Peter Land). Sylvia believes that with a little training, the kid can become a megastar. Tina thinks so too, and is literally willing to kill the competition when Miss Thorn (Andrea McCullough) casts a less gifted girl as the lead in the school play. Clearly, Judy needs to take action, but she’s distracted from her parental duties by the arrival of vitriolic theater critic Lita Encore (Rita McKenzie). Lita divulges a long-held secret that causes Judy to trade in her apron for a sequined gown, change her name to Ginger, and hustle off to Broadway for her own shot at the limelight. Ginger’s troubles are from over, though, as her conniving maid Eve (Tracy Jai Edwards) keeps concocting her own back-stabbing schemes. And of course, we haven’t heard the last of Tina…
Paley, who also directs, maintains an engagingly quirky tone throughout the evening and delivers sharp lyrics along with some well-timed one liners. The actors are all ideally cast in their archetypal roles, with 10-year-old Murray stealing the show with her prodigious gift for comedy and remarkable vocal prowess. The production’s only serious flaw is a technical, rather than an aesthetic one: A little amplification is par for the course these days, but most of the players don’t need the kind of excessive enhancement they’re getting here. Their powerhouse, brassy voices can already fill the St. Luke’s intimate space, and over-miking only results in a distractingly ruthless treatment of the audience’s eardrums.