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A CurtainUp Review
Grafted with the genetic makeup of The Bad Seed and graced with the precociousness of an all-smiling, all-dancing, all demented Shirley Temple, she is Miss Tina Denmark. She is played by the remarkably talented 10-year-old 5th grader Tori Murray whose performance has been carefully calculated for you to adore, even as she sends shivers up and down your spine.
But are you equally prepared to watch her being nurtured by Judy Denmark (Kim Maresca, making a sensational Off-Broadway debut) as her vacant-eyed mother who, although she can't recall her own shadowy past, or the name of her not-at-home (in the literal sense) husband, is soon to be rabidly obsessed, like Gypsy's Mama Rose, with her own career? Also come prepared for a plot that exploits the best and the most bestial parts of All About Eve and a host of other time-tested stock situations and clichés from classic Broadway and Hollywood lore.
Ruthless boasts, with its wildly tainted and skewed homage to show-biz and its denizens, an irresistibly inane book and abetting lyrics that suggests the collaboration of a pair of mad scientists who believe they have come up with an all-purpose cure for the compulsively theater-obsessed among us. This, by pouring the contents of every vial of show business vitriol into a large bubbling vat in their laboratory and stirring. If you are still not completely cured by the middle of this mid-summer madness, you will, at least, find this show works as a restorative indulgence of sheer lunacy
Everyone loves a show-business success story, and the story of how sweet little tap-happy Tina (originated by the whatever happened to now legendary Laura Bell Bundy) ruthlessly makes it to the top is one you may not want to miss. . . even if you relished it before. Don't fret if you don't get every nod to an old movie or a Broadway show. Paley's cracked plot assures us that everything is, coming up talent with a temper, especially under the no-turn un-stoned staging by the musical's original director Paley.
Over the years, Ruthless achieved a popularity as well as a permanent/cultish place in pop theater culture. Paley couldn't have found a more heartwarmingly abrasive child star than Murray, to bring back to life the aggressive little monster who can shake the rafter with her voice but also (spoiler alert) push someone off of them. Is she better than Bundy? Let's say that Murray owns the killer role for this generation. Not to be upstaged for a second, Maresca is both terrific and equally terrifying as Judy the Stepford-like housewife turned stupefying superstar mother. Her schizophrenia-based performance also takes ownership of the show on more than one occasion. Designer Josh Iacovelli's bright and flaky setting is lucky to remain standing in her wake.
There is outstanding support from Peter Land who croaks out the role (performed in drag) of Sylvia St. Croix, Tina's sinewy and scheming personal manager. Her well-kept secret is not what you may think. Other outstanding and funny performers determined to upstage one another include Andrea McCullough in the role of an ex-showgirl-turned drama teacher of uncertain sexual inclination; Tracy Jai Edwards in dual roles— the untalented, but more unlucky rich kid who gets in Tina's way in a school show and Eve Allabout (the name tells you all you need to know) — and Rita McKenzie (best known as the star and co-creator of Ethel Merman's Broadway ) as bitchy and belting (what else?) theater critic, all of whom put their best fangs forward. All have been dressed to kill by costume designer Nina Vartanian.
With some cast changes, this production, unlike the original, is now performed without an intermission. It still sings, snaps, and snarls all at the same time.