to R: PAUL PECORINO,
TORI MURRAY and KIM MARESCA Photo: Carol Rosegg
23, the day of the Great Blizzard here in New York, closed all Broadway shows
and most off Broadway, but not Ruthless where the actors, most likely
already in costume, would not abandon the stage so easily.
cornucopian plot of Ruthless while being a simple spoof on show business
has more twists and turns than a pretzel. Just when you think you know what is
happening, what you are seeing, and where it is going, revelation after
revelation, all coming out of left field, take us, oh so willingly, in another
head-swirling direction to the land where lying, deceit, hidden identities,
along with murder, mystery, and mayhem, all served up with song, dance, and a
great many laughs, reign supreme.
much of the action is predictable, if not inevitable – that’s what spoofs are
all about – the story of Ruthless is like a favorite aunt who you know
everything that she is going to say and do, but still you never tire at
watching her do and say it.
beginning to end Ruthless is filled with a baby bevy of amazingly
talented show-stopping, star-turning actors, each inhabiting a larger than life
character. You get 8 year old Tina Denmark, a devious self-centered rising
child star (realized sensationally by 11 year old 6th grader Tori
Murray), Judy Denmark (the golden-voiced Kim Maresca) her seemingly innocent
all-American mother who has thoughts of stardom for herself, and Lita Encore a
bitchy Hedda Hopper-like gossip columnist played to the hilt by Rita McKenzie.
Adding a cherry to the top of this delicious sundae is Sylvia St. Croix, a
conniving over-the-top, would-be agent acted to several three fare thee wells
by Paul Pecorino in drag.
PAUL PECORINO, ANDREA McCULLOUGH and KIM
thriving in this mix is Miss Thorn (Andrea McCullough), an alcoholic acting
teacher, formerly a failed actress who encourages Tina to audition for the
school play, Pippi in Tahiti, and Louise Lerman (Jennifer Diamond) who
with rich parents with money that talks is Tina’s chief competition for the
lead role of Pippi. Diamond also doubles as Eve Allabout, a character
who is somewhat patiently waiting in the wings for her chance to dethrone Judy
you think that you recognize these Ruthless characters, and they all are
ruthless bar none, well you have, for playwright Joel Paley has cleverly
peppered the musical throughout with scenes, as well as lines, taken from Gypsy,
Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, and The Bad Seed. Talk
about the layers of an onion.
play begins with a prologue delivered by Sylvia St. Croix’s with all the
dramatic intensity of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Ravishingly
dressed by costume designer Nina Vartanian, Croix, with more poses than a slew
of runway models, kidnaps the audience from the very beginning and never lets
us go. Looking us straight in the eye she challengingly asks in a theatrical
stage voice that could stop a bullet “where does talent come from? Is it a
product of one’s environment - something you pick up off the street? Or is
talent something you’re born with? Something passed down from generation to
generation - something in the blood. Meet Judy Demark.”
the curtain parts we see Judy Denmark an all-American looking housewife with a
husband we never see but only hear about running around her apartment. Dressed
and coifed, on a set to match – both are straight out of the 50s – Denmark
is busy answering call after call from people praising her daughter Tina.
Setting the comedic tone of the play with each call Denmark liltingly answers,
in a melodious sing-song voice “This is Tina’s mother.”
KIM MARESCA, PAUL PECORINO and RITA McKENZIE
seems that Tina, as her mother tells a pastor who is calling to remind Tina
that she has a choir solo coming up Sunday, “Tina is good at everything and I’m
grateful every day. Everyone agrees she’s positively heaven sent. My kid’s the
perfect eight-year-old. Yes, she’s enthralling.” With a heavenly set of pipes
that could reach the third balcony of a Broadway house, Maresca sings, Tina’s
Mother, the first of an enchanting cavalcade of delightful delivered
No sooner does Denmark finish singing, in
comes the ambitiously plotting Tina who was in the garage breaking in her new
tap shoes. After saying hello to her mother and St. Croix, who after seeing
Tina perform at the Rolling Hills Twilight Home for The Elderly unexpectedly
appears at the apartment, Tina, in a flurry of tap-dancing steps that ends with
her on top of a table, introduces herself by singing Born to Entertain.
“Some girls like to cook and sew when I cook it’s in a show. I was born to
entertain. Some girls prefer to help mom clean I’d rather learn a dance
routine. I was born to entertain.”
While Kim Maresca, Paul Pecorino and newcomer
Tori Murray are the main leads, all of the featured players are simply
wonderful. Show biz veteran Rita McKenzie – she co-created the award winning Ethel
Merman’s Broadway, the longest running one-woman show in theatrical history
– ironically belting out I Hate Musicals, brings down the house as she
sings “…I want to see a play with no singing and dancing to get in the way.
Theatre is language and that should be all. Music belongs at the Carnegie Hall.
Not a reason on earth as far as I know to write, mount and open a musical
Equally riveting is Andrea McCullough’s
rendition of Teaching Third Grade where she bemoans the fact that her
dream of being an actress fell flat on its face. No longer on meds, as she
tells us, she sings her story. “Sure, I went to New York to be an overnight
sensation. More than a face I was winning combination of talent and grace. I
wish I had mace. My purse was nabbed. My ass was grabbed behind Penn Station
now I’m back lord at the blackboard.
a roller coaster with laughs galore, Ruthless which first opened Off Broadway
22 years ago and won the Drama Desk Award for Best Lyrics and the Outer Critics
Circle Award for Best Off Broadway Musical, unfolds at breakneck speed. Its
hour and forty five minutes, seeming like one, just zipped on by.
why not! The talent is there, the story is fun, the price is right, the musical
is uplifting, and the intimacy of this small theatrical space is such that one
gets the distinct feeling that you are attending “a just for you” private
performance. At this very moment I am craving a third viewing. I am positively
sure that the third time, as the saying goes, will be a charm.
Ruthless at Sr. Luke’s Theatre
Mon & Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM.
Tickets for Row M $39.50, all others seats $69.50
Tickets available through www.RuthlessTheMusical.com or by calling 212-239-6200
performance on SEPTEMBER 10, 216
Book and Lyrics: Joel Paley
Music: Marvin Laird
Directed & Staged Joel Paley
Music Director: Ricky Romano
Music Supervisor/Arranger: Marvin Laird
Set and Lighting Design: Josh Iacovelli
Costume Design: Nina Vartanian
Sound Design: John Grosso
Music Director: Henry Hey