What lengths will people go to for their dreams? In Ruthless! The Musical, as far as it takes. We meet Judy Denmark (Kim Maresca), a housewife in a 50s style house, where she lives with her daughter Tina (Anya Evans), a talented singer and dancer at age eight, who is already popular in the local community. Enter manager with ambition Sylvia St Croix, who becomes a strong influence on Tina, nudging her further down a path she was already on the edge of when the school is to set up a production called Pippi in Tahiti and Tina gets her heart set on the lead role.
The show drags a bit in the first act as the story isn’t particularly original, and a lot of the jokes fall flat. We figure out almost immediately that Tina is going to go evil, so when it happens it is no surprise. Ruthless picks up significantly in the second act, the first section with Judy is probably the strongest in the show, and explores this different side of the character beautifully. Kim Maresca, who is charming and kooky in act one really shines in her big solo number, “It Will Never Be That Way Again”, which was the first moment in the show the audience were all in. It’s a shame then that when the daughter returns to the stage, it immediately becomes less interesting. That’s not in any way the fault of the young actress, Anya Evans, who is impressive from start to finish and has a great career ahead of her. It’s more that the mother/daughter plot is not as interesting as the mother’s story.
The big finish with the entire cast finally steps into the slightly ridiculous to going all out, and it is very funny. The ending is inevitable but yet satisfying, pulling in many tropes that could easily be too much, but every member of the cast fully commits to the scene and it is quite enjoyable to watch.
Ruthless is a curious show. With a child as the lead and the marketing claiming it’s appropriate for an audience of age ten and older, you’d be forgiven to think Ruthless is a family-friendly show. There is some swearing in the show, including from the young lead, and most of the funnier jokes are nods to a knowing audience and are likely to fly over younger children’s heads.
I do feel the show misses a trick by having a man playing one of the female parts, Sylvia. I realise after some research this is a tradition as a man did the best audition for the part in the original production, but the part was originally written for a woman. I spent the majority of the play thinking the character was a man dressed as a woman – this is what I was seeing after all – and it didn’t add anything to the character. No matter how well it was performed by Jason Gardiner, it was simply distracting. It is so rare we see a story about the relationship of women, so having a man playing the part in this day and age just didn’t sit right with me, I would have felt a lot more immersed in the story if it was acted out between women. That said, it was a magnificent performance by Jason Gardiner and the audience loved it.
The real star of the show for me, however, was Lara Denning who played the other student in the first act and Jude’s assistant in the second. Whenever she was on stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Amazing voice, amazing moves and perfect comedic timing. I enjoyed every second of her performance, and I look forward to seeing her again in a lead role.
Ruthless! The Musical isn’t a particularly memorable show overall, but it has great performers and a few stellar moments.
Review by Tori Jo Lau
HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO GET WHAT YOU WANT?
The all-female camp KILLER cult classic finally makes its way to London following its critical acclaim off-Broadway.
Ruthless! The Musical tells the story of the beautiful and talented 8-year-old Tina Denmark who will do anything to play the lead in her school play… ANYTHING!
It started Off-Broadway 25 years ago and discovered young performers including Britney Spears and Natalie Portman. The show famously spoofs Broadway musicals from Gypsy to Mame as well as iconic films including The Bad Seed & All About Eve.
Fifi Bloomsbury Khier, Charlotte Breen, Anya Evans and Lucy Simmonds alternate in the central role of Tina Denmark in Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s award-winning all female character camp killer cult classic Ruthless! The Musical. They join Jason Gardiner, Lara Denning, Kim Maresca, Harriet Thorpe and Tracie Bennett, completing the full company ahead of it’s strictly limited 14-week run at the Arts Theatre.
Book now for the stage mother of all musicals. Playing at the Arts Theatre for a limited 14-week run from 16th March.
RUTHLESS THE MUSICAL
Booking period: 16 March – 23 June 2018
Running time: 90 minutes with an interval
Age recommendation: 10+
Arts Theatre, London