By Bob Evans
Take the best parts of the musicals, “Gypsy,” “Mame,” the Bette Davis movie classic All About Eve, and the 1950s cult hit, “The Bad Seed,” stir recklessly, re-craft the main characters, add fun music, and watch a new, fun musical, “Ruthless!” emerge.
Olathe Civic Theatre Association just opened the musical parody, “Ruthless!” about an elementary age singing and dancing ingenue willing to kill–yes, kill–literally– for a part in her elementary one-night only musical, “Pippi Longstockings in Tahiti.”
Book and lyrics by Joel Paley with music by Marvin Laird, “Ruthless!” originally planned to feature an all-female cast; but, according to Wikipedia, a male actor had such a strong audition for the original production that the role continually goes to a man in drag. So goes director Jay Coombes decision to cast Trevor French as Sylvia in the absurd musical.
The fun musical definitely leans heavily on “Gypsy’s” Mama Rose, more so than on the character of Mame. Memorable lines from “Gypsy” (both the stage musical and movie) just keep the audience laughing. Even some of the lines by the younger Louise bring laughs–“Mama, I’m a pretty girl.” Later, in Act II, some of the lampooning of the Bette Davis/Anne Baxter classic clash in All About Eve come to light. Younger audiences may not know the movie, but it’s the classic theme of a person clawing his or her way to the top by idolizing and imitating their target.
How can a musical about murder be funny? Well, have you seen “Arsenic and Old Lace” where main characters kill 24 persons and the audience laughs all the way through the story? Well, “Ruthless!” finds the way to make killing fun and games with music and dance.
Some people will kill for a part, or say they say. But, when Tina Denmark says it, she means it. For the lead in her elementary musical, the lead mysteriously falls from a catwalk with a noose around her neck. And, since the show must go on, her understudy steps up to the challenge. That’s the premise and the show continues that off-center absurdity throughout. With fun music, comic book-like characters, silly dialogue, and a pushy drag queen/talent agent, there’s nothing but fun (and a few adult words) in “Ruthless!”
The show is fun family fun (except for a handful of adult words…but, let’s face it, if your kids attend school, they have heard them all before). Audiences will laugh throughout. Movie an musical comedy fans will recognize the spoofing and laugh along with the actors. And, when you combine Jay Coombes directing with a sharp script and great actors like Trevor French and Stasha Case, the show can’t fail.
Jay Coombes, known as a strong comedy director coupled with Tim Braselton as music director to craft “Ruthless!” The cast is: Stasha Case as Judy Denmark/Ginger DelMarco, Trevor A. French as Sylvia St. Croix, Julia Moriarty as Miss Thorn, Korrie Murphy as Eve Allabout, Alecia Stutz as Lita Encore. For the younger cast, the young ladies rotate cast positions throughout the run. The talented ladies playing rotating roles are: Joey Brogden and Mia Cabrera as Tina Denmark or Petunia Pushbroom; Julia Masterson and Eva Smith as Louise Larman or Rachel Hobbs. In her OCTA debut, Kimberly Stelting served as stage manager.
As for the technical aspects, the strongest shout out goes to costumer, Libby Irving. Costumes for the show stand out. The costumes for Sylvia and Judy are just fun to see with each change. They are a highlight of the tech aspects of the show. Some sound problems occur in the production. The performance space is not strong without mics. Dialogue delivered from the left side of the stage is inaudible the further right one sits. Still the show is fun and well worth the time.
“Ruthless!” continues weekends through Oct. 1. Tickets can be purchased via the OCTA website. Evening shows begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.
Tags: Olathe Civic Theatre Association, OCTA, “Ruthless!”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment