The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
I'm talented! God help me, I'm talented! — Judy Denmark
L to R: Peter Land and Tori Murray (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Welcome the long-awaited return of Ruthless. Don't be alarmed if this vicious musical all about maniacal excess with its vivaciously venomous score by Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (lyrics) catapults you out of the theater on a high and keep you smiling even if it's into a sweltering summer night. Fear not that this deliriously campy (sorry there is no other word that suits) show about one aggressive little show-biz-driven girl that first delighted Off Broadway audiences twenty-three years ago is only for the initiated or the intrepid.

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.

Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley
Music by Marvin Laird
Directed and Staged by Joel Paley

Cast: Peter Land (Sylvia St. Croix), Kim Maresca (Judy Denmark), Tori Murray (Tina Denmark), Andrea McCullough (Miss Thorn), Tracy Jai Edwards (Louise Lerman, Eve Allabout), Rita McKenzie (Lita Encore)
Set & Lighting Design: Josh Iacovelli
Costume Design: Nina Vartanian
Souind Design: John Grosso
Music Director: Ricky Romano
Production Stage Manager: Jeramiah Peay
Music Supervision/arranger: Marvin Laird
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes with no intermission
St. Luke's Theater, 308 W. 46th Street
Tickets: $39.50 - $69.50
Performances: Mon & Fri – 8 pm ( Thurs -7 pm) Saturday- 2 pm
From 06/25/15 Opened 07/13/15; extended several times, currently to 9/10/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/09/15
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Ruthless
  • The review made me eager to see Ruthless
  • I disagree with the review of Ruthless
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The New Similes Dictionary

©Copyright 2015, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from