Friday, March 14, 2014

Shades of ‘The Bad Seed’ + ‘All About Eve’…it’s ‘Ruthless!’

Published Dec. 22, 1995 in The Kansas City Kansan.


By Steve Crum 

Tina has “Broadway on the brain.” Tina has talent. Tina will kill for a good part. Eight year-old Tina is the central character in the brilliantly conceived Ruthless!, a knockout-witty showbiz musical spoof playing through Dec. 31 at the Unicorn.

Cleverly mounted by KCK native Marvin Laird (music) and Joel Paley (book and lyrics), Ruthless! takes affectionate jabs at dozens of media (particularly film) cliches. The Bad Seed plot hook is supported by hat tips to Gypsy, All About Eve, and A Star is Born, among other stage and movie classics. We are talking one-liners, set pieces, and musical numbers. The 20-plus very tuneful songs, in fact, are parody-laced, and the dialogue is savvy, snappy, and funny.

Director J. Kent Barnhart has fashioned a well-paced production complemented by an energetic, talented cast. Co-producer Marvin Laird recently said that of the many Ruthless! touring productions over the last couple of years (it is playing in four cities now), the KC package is the best he has seen.

The two-act story opens in a 1950’s kitsch-deco, Denmark home wherein pathetically perfect mother Judy (Teri Adams) has focused her life around precocious daughter Tina (real-life 11 year-old Samantha Barrett). Enter Sylvia St. Croix (Terry O’Reagan), a would be talent agent who pressures Mom Judy to place Tina in her stage career care. After a deadly school play incident, the young trouper is sent to reform school for the criminally talented aka “The Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingenues.” 

While her daughter serves time, Judy discovers her own showbiz genes, changes her name and attitude, and becomes the crustless toast of Broadway. Mama is surrounded by a personal secretary (Vicki Baker), an obnoxious theatre critic (Rosanna Coppedge); and inquiring reporter Emily Block (Cheryl Benge). The terrific cast is topped by Adams, Barrett, and O’Reagan.

A triple conflict resolution that includes hidden identities amongst hilarious hokum is the capper. Ruthless! is a farcical gem. 
Since this review was published, Marvin Laird and Joel Paley have remade their award winning Off Broadway play, Ruthless!, in preparation for another run in New York City. The best selling 1994 Los Angeles Original Cast recording is evidently out of print, but available on several web sites.

Besides being my friend and fellow Kansas City Kansan, the very gifted Marvin Laird has been Bernadette Peters’ arranger, conductor, and pianist for decades. 
Enjoy this promo for Ruthless! The Musical:

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