Ruthless! The Musical: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Evil little blond girls never get old. When Tina Denmark, a precocious song-and-dance sociopath who garrotes a rival for the lead in her grade-school play, made her debut in the super campy 1992 musical Ruthless!, she was already familiar from her lineage: She’s The Bad Seed’s Rhoda Penmark spliced with Gypsy’s Baby June. The preternaturally self-assured Tori Murray plays this Shirley Temple of doom in the show’s current revival, and the joke still kills.
Not everything else about Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s musical holds up quite so well, but it's an enjoyable slice of cyanide birthday cake. The show-tuneful score is lively and the main cast is strong; Kim Maresca sings wonderfully as Tina’s mom, a retro housewife with a secret past, and Peter Land brings sly authority to the drag role of Sylvia St. Croix, an Auntie Mame–like talent agent. Ruthless! presents a world in which everyone wants to be in showbiz—even a critic (Rita McKenzie) who supposedly hates musicals decries them in a Merman blare—and talent is a kind of hereditary disease. Rotten as the state of Tina Denmark may be, we can’t resist watching.
St. Luke’s Theatre (Off Broadway). Music by Marvin Laird. Book and lyrics by Joel Paley. Directed by Paley. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35 mins. No intermission.
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