Ruthless! The Musical
Photo: Darren Scott

Ruthless! The Musical

"All About Eve" meets "The Bad Seed" meets "Mame"

Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley
Music by Marvin Laird
Directed by Leigh Scarritt and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg
Moxie Theatre, San Diego
July 10–August 7, 2016

The Moxie Theatre caps off its current season with “Ruthless! The Musical,” a high-octane, campy cocktail that is equal parts “All About Eve,” “The Bad Seed,” “Gypsy” and “Mame,” with a dash of Hitchcock thrown in. The result is split-timing, side-splitting laughs.

Mousey Judy Denmark (Eileen Bowman), mother of talented 8-year-old daughter Tina Denmark (Ainsley Savant), has misgivings about Tina’s all-consuming desire to be a star. Judy is no match, however, when cutthroat talent agent Sylvia St. Croix (David McBean in drag in a boffo performance) takes an interest and quickly takes over young Tina’s career. McBean’s character is every inch a woman who just happens to belt out numbers with a voice like Tom Jones. The effect is uproarious.

Tina’s immediate celebrity hinges on which child teacher Miss Thorn (Jeannine Marqui) selects as the lead for the third-grade production of “Pippi in Tahiti.” It comes down to Tina and Louise Lerman (Madeline Hernandez). What Louise lacks in talent, she makes up for in political savvy (her parents’ hardware store donates the wood and paint for the sets), and she lands the coveted role. Tina quickly becomes her understudy, which naturally spells curtains for Louise. This is not an unsettling development because Louise is such a brat you’ll want to whack her yourself.

What follows is a cat’s cradle of tangled relationships and revelations when we learn that Judy was adopted by take-no-prisoners theater critic Lita Encore (played by real theater critic Pat Launer). Was Judy truly an orphan? Does talent skip a generation? And what happens when young Tina gets out of the slammer?

“Ruthless!” has been slaying audiences since 1992. In this production, scenic and properties designer Angelica Ynfante has a field day rendering Judy’s oh-so-perfect suburban living room to the Manhattan penthouse of an unexpected up-and-coming star. Big hair and pancake make-up have never had it so good in the hands of wig/make-up designer Missy Bradstreet. Costume designer Kate Bishop dresses Sylvia St. Croix to within an inch her life with enough fur and animal prints to call out the ASPCA. Lighting design by Sherrice Mojgani. Sound design by David Scott. The leads and a baker’s dozen of Tina’s schoolmates dance up a storm under the choreography of Shirley Johnston.

This is a Cracker Jack cast under assured direction by Leigh Scarritt and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. However, the casting choice and billing (“special guest star”) of Pat Launer does beg the question: Are there no firewalls remaining in journalism?

Lynne Friedmann

San Diego ,
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.