A PSYCHOPATHIC 8 YEAR OLD IS A CHILLING WINTER CHARMER
Ruthless! is murder and obsessiveness - Creators Laird and Paley created characters that include a demonic tot who bumps off a rival in a school musical, her mother who turns into a Broadway star and a manic agent who has her own thwarted dreams.
Review By Vince Mediaa
Things are not quite as perfect as they seem in the Denmark household. “Ruthless! The Musical” takes us back to the 1950’s where we meet the Denmark family - The NCTC presents the camp romp Ruthless! The musical through Jan 7th on their Decker stage. A wonderful, irreverent romp that tells the tale of little Tina Denmark and her family, who prove that they are willing to do whatever it takes to become a star. Directed by local favorite Dyan McBride, she returns to the NCTC after a long history with the Conservatory. She is excited to present this mad cap take off of Hollywood's dark side. Artistic Director Ed Decker says “Ruthless! Has been an off-Broadway smash since its debut in 1992.” He has always wanted to present this comedy at the NCTC and finally little 8 year old Tina is finally here to scare off Santa. This camp celebration of The Bad Seed, Gypsy, All About Eve, A Chorus Line and every bad mother-daughter-sociopathic killer movies is a delicious winter treat.
With a book and lyrics by Joel Paley and music by Marvin Laird, the musical made its Off-Broadway debut as a smash hit. It’s the dark novella story of Judy Denmark, played by the impressive Mary Kalita, a Stepford-wife homemaker who opens the first act with “Tina’s Mother”. She is flawless, with perfect comic timing that kept the audience in stitches and outstanding singing, going from sweet to sassy without missing a beat. Her darling psychopath daughter, Tina the 8 year old is played by the savvy Melissa Momboisse who wants more than anything to be a big Broadway star. She sings “Born To Entertain” to open her non-stop sweetness as the evil child who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Sylvia St. Croix makes a classic diva entrance as the talent agent extraordinaire, promising to make the little darling a star. Sylvia is played by the incomparable J. Conrad Frank who sings “Talent” as she realizes she wants to make the girl the next big thing. Frank always stops the show in whatever play or musical he is cast in.
Toss in Judy’s a theatre critic and mother played by the thrilling Jacqueline De Muro who steals the first act with her number “I Hate Musicals” the perfect spoof that covers any musical. The wonderful Hayley Lovgren plays Miss Thorn, the 3rd grade teacher and director of Pippi the show that Tina must be the lead. Lovgren sings “Teaching 3rd Grade” and shows off her flawless voice and great comic skills. Tina has ways of her own, including murdering her fourth-grade rival for the lead role in the school play. As the plot gets over the top the big bang climax is predictable and very funny.
Director Dyan McBride does a magnificent job keeping her cast moving at a Marx Brothers rhythm. Mc Bride guides this cast of five terrific actors into a cohesive, well-paced Hollywood romp. Timing is everything and they keep the pace moving along nicely. Music Director Joe Wicht helms his small but mighty band with a sure hand and has rehearsed the cast into a smooth sounding ensemble with no false notes. The clever Staci Arriaga didn’t have a lot to choreograph - this is not a huge dance show but the second act “Ruthless!” the banner song is a show stopper.
The dual living room sets that Matt Owens designed are bright and Pee Wee Herman friendly. The cheesy Mid-America-Mrs.-Cleaver’s house in the first act and the sleek New York styled furnishings of the second act are theatre glitz. Wes Crains’s period perfect costumes fit the action. Judy’s pink dress are too camp for words, and the second act deco-inspired black number was superb. All of Sylvia’s gowns are polished and stunning. Deon’s Glasses wigs deserve a special mention of their own – they are all lavish crowns. The lighting by Brittany Mellerson highlights the color of the house interior set. The second act lighting is a bit darker and uses pools of light for the dance numbers.
The stand out Lucca Troutman as a no-talent, Pippi Longstocking, fourth grader and later does a terrific send up of the evil Eve from All About Eve. Troutman sings “A Penthouse Apartment” with her strong voice and she is full of pratfalls and double takes, she’s a comedic gem. The song showcases her voice and physical comedy skills excellently. The power house Momboisse as Tina her voice is stellar in the reprise of “Talent” in the second act. The innocent little Mommy’s girl as well as Patty McCormack did in the original Bad Seed – and yet – is just such a terrible little person that you can’t help but love hating her.
J. Conrad Frank as Sylvia St. Croix is the perfect diva, Frank is so right for this part. J Conrad so embodies the failed Diva that you literally forget that she is not a cisgender actress but an incredibly talented star – not a drag queen – a great actor, playing this roll. The cast of RUTHLESS! includes Lisa Appleyard (Swing), Jacqueline De Muro (Lita Encore), J. Conrad Frank (Sylvia St. Croix), Mary Kalita (Judy Denmark), Hayley Lovgren (Miss Thorn), Danielle Mendoza (Swing), Melissa Momboisse (Tina Denmark), Lucca Troutman (Louise/Eve), and Sarah Elizabeth Williams (Swing).
“Ruthless! The Musical” offers two hours of unrelieved camp that, by the end, had me longing for some other business than show business. It is one of those shows that – at face value – you can’t take seriously. Don’t look for great depth or meaning or commentary, only the fact that Hollywood morals are at the heart of this story. This is fun and pure camp. It’s as frothy as a soap bubble but the difference is, you will fear little 8 year olds that have a passion to become famous. Yet this 8 year old will make you smile. The NCTC has a New Years Eve matinee performance scheduled - this is the perfect way to end your 2023 theatre season.
New Conservatory Theatre Center Presents
Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley, Music by Marvin Laird
Directed by Dyan McBride
Music Director Joe Wricht
Choreographer Staci Arriaga
Must Close Jan 7th, 2024
New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness Ave at Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Running time 2 hours with intermission
. Tickets and information at 415-861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org.
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/nctcsf/
RUTHLESS! runs through Jan 7, 2024, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, Walker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25-$65. For tickets and information, please visit NCTCSF.org or call 415-861-8972.
Photos by Lois Tema