"This is the theatre, not the playground. We're not here to have fun!" Sylvia St. Croix declares in Ruthless!, the riotously funny musical in performance at the Triad Theatre.
Despite the declarations of Ms. St. Croix, much fun is being had at the Triad, where the musical is being presented as a limited run to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Ruthless!, which was penned by Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (music), tells the story of Tina Denmark, an aspiring child star, and her mother Judy. Their happy suburban lives are changed forever when overbearing agent Sylvia St. Croix enters and begins guiding Tina to the limelight.
First performed Off-Broadway in the 1990s, Ruthless! is a loving satire of show-business hopes and dreams, as well as the darker side of talent. Inspired by "The Bad Seed," as well as stories like Gypsy and "All About Eve," the show is most definitely a musical for people who love musicals, mercilessly satirizing and skewering what people will do to make it in the limelight. Composer Laird plays a wonderfully understated Sylvia St. Croix, the self-proclaimed Auntie Mame and Mama Rose, earning laughs from the audience with a simple smile or nod as he accompanies himself on the piano, clad in a glittering black gown and turban. Kim Maresca is a wonderfully wide-eyed and vacant 1950s happy housewife and mother, complete with an apron and pearls. She transforms easily into a cold-blooded and ambitious star during the second half of the performance. Rita McKenzie, playing Judy's adoptive mother and merciless theatre critic Lita Encore, steals the show with a full-voiced rendition of the hilarious song "I Hate Musicals." Delaney Arizala doubles as Louise Lerman as well as Eve and is highly entertaining in both, while Katie Sparer also does well as as the frustrated third-grade teacher Miss Thorn and the ambitious reporter Emily Block.
Performed without an intermission, Ruthless! is efficiently staged, and everyone in the cast possesses wonderful comedic timing, especially Sophia Anne Caruso, who shines as Tina. A talented and powerful singer and dancer, she brought down the house with her first solo, "Born to Entertain," and showed she's more than a pretty face or voice with her physical comedy, even asking, "What the f*ck?" when she (spoiler alert) fails to land the leading role in the school play. Her desperation to be a star and what she will do to achieve just that are endlessly entertaining; even her facial reactions to the absurdity around her are impressive.
While Ruthless! is an undeniable riot, its edge has sharpened in the age of Honey Boo-Boo and "Toddlers & Tiaras." In its original Off-Broadway run, it featured future Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy as Tina, with Natalie Portman and Britney Spears as her understudies. It will be interesting to see where Caruso is 20 years from now.
Ruthless! runs through Sept 22. Visit ruthlessthemusical.brownpapertickets.com for tickets and more information.