RUTHLESS – Reviewed by Stephen Radosh

RUTHLESS, is a silly, fun, and satiric mash-up of various classic films and iconic characters from a simpler and more naïve time. Apparently set sometime in the 1950’s at a time when women wore gloves and pearls while whipping out their best Jello molds. It was also a time when children were polite, well-mannered and seen but not heard. Well, most children anyway. Tell Patty McCormick her ‘Bad Seed’ has met her match and say hello to 8 year old Tina Denmark; singer, dancer and complete sociopath! She is going to be a star and no one will stop her from achieving her goal no matter what it might take! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We first meet Judy Denmark (Christine Tringali Nunes), Tina’s mother singing the very funny and aptly titled song, “Tina’s Mother.” From head to toe she is the personification of the idealized housewife of the era. The very flamboyant but driven agent, Sylvia St. Croix (Robbie Wayne) arrives at the front door, determined to sign Tina (Elizabeth Schmelling) and make her a star. Tina is naturally all for it. Sylvia encourages her to go after the lead role in her 3rd grade class musical “Pippi Longstockings” directed by their rather flaky teacher Miss Thorn (Dana Adkins). Sadly, she only gets the part of Pippi’s dog and becomes the understudy for Pippi as well. I say sadly not for Tina, but for the poor untalented Louise Lerman (Leanna Rodgers) who lands the role until Tina decides to kill her in order to take over the part that should have been hers in the first place.

The Ethel Mermanish highly critical critic Lita Encore (Jaci Davis) arrives to review the show but not before belting out the very funny number “I Hate Musicals.” And oh by the way, Lita just happens to be Judy’s adoptive mother. Her real mother, Rita DeMarco, was believed to have killed herself many years ago. I hope you’re taking notes. There will be a quiz after class!

So, Tina goes off for a four year stay at the Daisy Clover Institute for Psychopathic Ingénues. Mama decides to embrace her musical theatre heritage and changes her name to Ginger DeMarco, becomes a big Broadway star and wins 2 Tony Awards. She now has an assistant named Eve Allabout (Leanna Rodgers pulling double duty) who wants not only everything Ginger has but wants to be Ginger. Well, from this point on the plot takes more turns than Lombard Street and revealing any of them would be spoiling too much of the fun. But all through the labyrinth of the second act, these gals prove time and again that to succeed in Show Business you have to be Ruthless.

The story line is way over the top which can be a challenge to actors doing a show like this. Too low-key a performance and you risk killing much of the of the laughter and fast pace required by a show such as RUTHLESS . Conversely, too far over the top can exhaust the audience and leave them behind in the dust. No matter how crazy the plot gets, the audience must still care what happens to these characters or total indifference can set in. In this regard, every member of the cast is right on target and that is, in no small way, thanks to the superb direction of Loren Freeman. Mr. Freeman played Sylvia in the original Los Angeles production but has handed in his heels and wigs for the director’s chair and what a great swap it is! Holding the reins with a firm hand he has kept his cast from chewing up the entire set, leaving only an occasional but welcomed bite mark here and there. The pacing never slags and not a single laugh is lost throughout the evening.

One of the many joys of this show is that each cast member gets a chance to shine. From Judy’s first number to Eve’s “A Penthouse Apartment” each character gets a solo that allows them to own the stage and each member of this excellent cast does it in spades. It would be unfair to single anyone out in this strong and talented ensemble. Spot on comic timing, good singing voices and fully committed performances make RUTHLESS one of the most enjoyable shows I have seen in the valley. Bravos and bravas to all.

A special compliment must be given to Bruce Weber. His set and costumes for RUTHLESS are simply perfect. The 2 sets for the show were spot on from a period and locale standpoint. Act One’s cozy and tasteful suburban home and Act Two’s chic penthouse apartment were full of wonderful details and matched the characters flawlessly. As for the costumes, from Judy’s ideal housewife daywear to the outrageous fashions worn by Sylvia, each outfit not only elicited the fifties and the essence of each

character but managed in several cases to actually evoke genuine laughs from the audience. On behalf of everyone who has and will see the show I say thank you and congratulations on a job well done!!!!!

Get your tickets now, and I mean NOW, to see RUTHLESS at the Desert Rose Playhouse. It runs Friday-Sun through July14. For further info or to order tickets visit DesertRosePlayhouse.Org

Photos courtesy of Mike Thomas

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