Ruthless! The Musical

Alex Theatre

Stagebugs Productions

Alex Theatre
01 Mar – 24 Mar
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Talent. Who has it and who doesn’t? It is a word readily bandied about, but it is fair to say that talent gets down to the eye (and ear) of the beholder. That is the subject at the centre of this absurdist, slapstick musical, first performed Off-Broadway in 1992. It is a rollicking spoof of classic shows such as Gypsy and Mame, and the iconic thriller The Bad Seed.

Eight-year-old Tina Denmark (Luisa Oro) longs to be a star and will stop at nothing to get there. She has more talent in her little finger than her adopted housewife mother Judy (Britni Leslie), who flits about … alone (without her frequently absent husband). An oft-used gag in the piece is that we hear his name enough, but never get to see him.

Into their lives steps a larger-than-life talent agent Sylvia St Croix (Dolly Diamond), who saw Tina perform at a seniors’ home and was immediately enamoured. St Croix convinces Judy Denmark to allow her daughter to leave school to pursue fame and fortune. Only first, Tina desperately wants the lead role as Pippi Longstocking in the school musical, being orchestrated by teacher Miss Thorn (Stephanie Astrid John).

Among those Tina is up against is 10-year-old Louise Lerman (Olivia Charalambou), the entitled, disinterested and talentless daughter of uber wealthy parents. Surprise, surprise (NOT!) … Tina lucks out and is enraged. Sylvia St Croix suggests she become the understudy – ready to step in at a moment’s notice if Lerman is unavailable to take the stage for the show’s one performance. With a devilish smile, Tina accepts. Treachery is afoot.

Ruthless! The Musical takes off from there, with revelation after revelation to follow. That includes seeing Judy Denmark well and truly shrug off the talentless housewife tag … and shocking family secrets revealed. The music is by Marvin Laird, with lyrics and book by Joel Paley. Everything in the clearly outrageous production, played strictly for laughs, is camped up. With affectations at the ready, the cast go for the doctor. After all, over the top is the name of the game and that includes ear-piercing solos.

The frivolity is infectious. The one liners come thick and fast. As Sylvia St Croix, Dolly Diamond is totally at home. She owns the stage – pouting and pontificating. Britni Leslie milks Judy Denmark’s naivete … and more, while Luisa Oro’s facial expressions underpin Tina’s two-faced persona. I was particularly taken by the performance and vocal proclivity of Stephanie Astrid John as the teacher and wannabe actor. Olivia Charalambou is a hoot as a precocious youngster and the scheming maid to a Tony Award winning star. Emma Clair Waxman shines as Tina’s grandmother, who is partial to a drink.

Damien Jones has done a fine job with the set designs, a homely setting giving way to Broadway glamour after interval. Frocked and flouncy describes some of the noteworthy costuming by Britni Leslie. Ruthless! The Musical is heaps of fun. It is wild and wacky, but at two and a half hours, including interval, it feels stretched, particularly in the first act. Having said that, I revelled in the amped up skullduggery in Act II. Directed by Chelsea Matheson, with musical direction from Dave Barclay and Ned Dixon, it is playing at Alex Theatre until 24th March, 2024.

Alex First

Alex First

Alex First believes all people have a story to tell, if only a good playwright can prize it out of them. Alex has a natural curiosity about the world and believes a strong narrative, or narrative with music, can open the door to subjects about which he knows little. Like his parents before him, theatre is his passion – a passion with emotional resonance, one that moves and excites him. He brings decades’ experience as an arts’ connoisseur to his role as a critic.
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