Marvin Laird and Joel Paley’s cult musical written for an all-female cast is no feel-good celebration of sisterhood. Think more a fun and frivolous trip to the dark side of the feminine psyche, where it’s sugar and spice – with more than a pinch of arsenic.
Director Lisa Freshwater has brought together on stage the likes of Katrina Retallick, Meredith O’Reilly, Margi De Ferranti and Geraldine Turner. These stellar performers can bring the house down, but they’ve got their work cut out to keep up with 10-year-old Madison Russo playing an all singing, all dancing, murderess in pink polka dots.
Tina Denmark (Russo) declares herself “born to entertain” and this pint sized triple threat isn’t going to see some no talent primary schooler stomp on her dream of being Pippi (as in Longstocking) in the school musical. She will do anything to win back her lead role and if that means arranging her rival’s untimely demise, so be it. And where are her parents in all this? Her ditzy mum (Retallick) is simply too busy posing as a 1950s magazine housewife to an ever absent husband to spot the tell tale signs. So will Tina get her comeuppance? All I will say is, there are enough absurd plot twists to fill the kind of old movies Laird and Paley are parodying – ‘The Bad Seed’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘All About Eve’ – with each character introduced more eccentric than the last.
The songs are of the knock ‘em dead showbiz type and like the show’s jokes (some of the running gags run out of steam), they need to be delivered with panache. No concerns here. The performances are terrific and it all stays on track, partly because everyone commits to the artifice and off-the-wall humour. The cast is also well served by a terrific live band under Brad Miller’s musical direction.
O’Reilly is a standout as voracious talent agent, Sylvia St Croix, with the wonderful Turner, as Broadway critic Lita Encore, chewing most of Mason Browne’s retro scenery in the second act. But it is Russo’s Tina that holds things together. This is the enchanting face of evil, all golden locks and steely stare, and she is utterly fabulous.
Ruthless makes for one helluva campy night in the theatre.
Ruthless plays at the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre until 5 July. Bookings: 02 9351 7940 or seymourcentre.com