It is a herculean task to create a show that maintains a consistent humorous rhythm, but thanks to Joel Paley and Marvin Laird, this effort has not only been achieved; it has surpassed all the standards one expects in a musical comedy.
Ruthless!, which recently opened at the St. Luke’s Theater starts with a ludicrous premise and continues to get even more delicious throughout it’s well crafted, 90 minute duration.
Taking its cues from classic movies like The Bad Seed and Gypsy, Ruthless! tells the story of Tina Denmark (Tori Murray) a precocious elementary school child who is hell-bent on getting the part for the school musical, Pippi in Tahiti. Everyone loves Tina Denmark–or at least that’s what her prim and proper mother, Judy (Kim Maresca) believes. Sylvia St. Croix (Peter Land) , an unscrupulous talent scout (who might be the thinnest and tallest female impersonator to have ever ruled the boards) sweeps in, notices Tina’s incredible skills, and feeds her insatiable urge for stardom. When her dream role goes to Louise Lerman (Tracy Jai Edwards), Tina plots a path to her destruction. A variety of other characters, in true camp fashion, add to the already kooky blend of personalities.
Musical theater queens and nerds probably know that the role of Tina Denmark was originally played by a then unknown Laura Bell Bundy, when the show first bowed Off-Broadway in the early nineties. Brittany Spears and Natalie Portman were also cast as the show’s understudies. The “where are they now” mystery has been solved for the three aforementioned ladies, but it is exciting to see where Murray and Edwards’ careers will take them. Both actors in this current production are wonderfully attuned to deliver the deadpan laughs that the piece demands.
Ruthless! comes complete with Laird’s catchy music, a surprise cameo, and stellar performances under Paley’s direction. But wait! There’s more! Who would have thought that such an over the top comedy could deliver important moral lessons on ego and parenting? Leagues of savvy theater-goers–that’s who. Since the original production, the piece has found a solid fan base, where it continues to be mounted in regional theaters and playhouses around the globe. No doubt that the show’s construction and spirited energy are directly linked to the creative team’s off stage lives . Paley and Laird have been professional and personal partners for 38 years and opening night, they proposed marriage to one another. The only ones plotting destruction at that news is Rick Santorum and his ilk. Sorry, Rick. Love wins.
Where was I? Oh right! The show. Well, the only real question left to ask is this: Is it too unscrupulous to eighty-six someone for a ticket to the summer’s most entertaining stage comedy?
Ruthless! is now playing at St. Luke’s Theater on W. 46th street between 8th and 9th. For tickets, visit the box office or online: https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Ruthless-The-Musical/Schedules-Prices