Ruthless! The Musical
"So many lessons that I should've taught her, like , for example, to not kill her friends."
- Book and lyrics by Joel Paley
- Music by Marvin Laird
- Directed by Joel Paley
- Opened 11/15/93 at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA.
Sylvia St. Croix
Judy Denmark/Ginger DelMarco
Myrna Thorn, Emily Block
Louise Lerman, Eve
This musical is a parody of The Bad Seed, Gypsy, All About Eve, and a host of other shows.
The booklet doesn't provide a plot summary and I couldn't find a good one on the Internet, so here's the best I could figure out: Wimpy and untalented mother Judy Denmark has a remarkably talented daughter, Tina, who is desperate to perform. Sleazy agent Sylvia St. Croix encourages Tina to audition for the school play, Pippi in Tahiti. Unfortunately, the third grade teacher, Miss Thorn, chooses (probably deliberately) the thoroughly untalented Louise Lerman for the lead, making Tina the understudy. Well, that isn't good enough for Tina, who murders Louise and goes on as Pippi. Meanwhile, Judy discovers that her mother, theatre critic Lita Encore, was actually a Broadway star, Ruth DelMarco. The news turns Judy into Ginger DelMarco, a confident (and talented) Broadway performer.
Tina's heinous act is discovered, and she's sent to the Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingenues. Ginger is wowing them on Broadway, but she's in conflict with Sylvia, who also nurses aspirations of stardom. Sylvia wants to turn the newly freed Tina into the star she should be; and all three vie for the spotlight. Also in the mix is Ginger's assistant Eve, who is attempting to remake herself into Ginger, and Emily Block, a lesbian reporter whose role in the musical I simply cannot figure out (she doesn't have any songs).
- Tina's Mother
- Born to Entertain
- To Play This Part
- Teaching Third Grade
- Where Tina Gets It From
- The Pippi Song
- Kisses and Hugs
- Teaching Third Grade (reprise)
- Talent (reprise #1)
- I Hate Musicals
- Angel Mom
- A Penthouse Apartment
- It Will Never Be That Way Again
- I Want the Girl
- Parents and Children
- Talent (reprise #2)
- Ruthless! (reprise)
- Unkie's Muncle
- New York Outer Critics Circle Award: Best Off-Broadway Musical 1993
- Lindsay Ridgeway was voted Best New Discovery of 1994 and received a Robbie Award nomination.
If this musical isn't proof that you don't need the ALW treatment to mount a splendid musical, I don't know what is. This off-Broadway offering is one of my favorite 1990s musicals and one of the funniest shows I have on CD. It's cynical and evil (just my cup of tea) and loaded with witty lyrics that wink at the various stories parodied. The music's pretty witty as well, with echoes of Gypsy, A Chorus Line, George Gershwin, Sondheim, and probably several other sources that I'm not familiar with. (Apparently, the Daisy Clover sequence is done in Les Mis style.) Whereas it's easy for the comedy in most productions to flag in the second act, that's not the case here; the story spirals ever outward, ever more outrageous, culminating in an angry duet between Tina and Ginger in which the featured word is "Me!" The performances are all exaggerated, which again is entirely appropriate for the material. (This is emphatically not a straight musical; check out the pictures of the characters on the back of the booklet, and their outrageous costumes.)
There are no low points in the score; everything is worth paying attention to. My personal favorite is the corny "Pippi Song," which will remind you of every crappy kid song you ever had to suffer through in a school play, complete with goofs (Louise spells it P-I-P-P-Y, which results in a disgusted correction from the wings and a deflated "Oh" from the hapless singer--and BTW, her name provides an opportunity for someone to sardonically call out, "Sing out, Louise!") "I Hate Musicals," sung by the Ethel Merman soundalike McKenzie, sums up everything that makes musicals so easy to hate--particularly "the new shows, they're nothing but sets." "Teaching Third Grade" exposes the Big Lie that teaching is a rewarding profession, and prompted my friend Robin to remark that the composer was way too familiar with stage mothers and children's productions. Also, listen for the music-box air of "Kisses and Hugs," the naked ambition of "A Penthouse Apartment," the terrific duet "Parents and Children," and the title song, with its cheerfully greedy sentiments.
The band is very small--two pianos, percussion, and bass--giving the production an air of cocktail lounge that works well with the story. Because of the minimalist band, the voices are truly the centerpiece of the musical, which could have been a problem with weak voices, but luckily this is a cast with superb voices, as well as arguably the most talented kid to star in a musical in years:
- Lindsay Ridgeway really was just eight years old when she recorded this CD. Honest to God, you won't believe it. I knew there was a picture of her on the back of the booklet and the CD, but I was half convinced that someone else was singing for her. It's not just that she sings consistently on key--rare enough in kids--in a sweet voice, but she also belts with the best of them, handling complicated songs with ease (she hits three different notes on the "tain" part of "entertain"), and her acting is impeccable. She manages to sound mindlessly cheerful and overly sweet on "Born to Entertain," desperate in "To Play This Part," cat-with-the-canary on "Kisses & Hugs," frustrated on "Montage," and sophisticated on "Parents and Children." Too bad she was absorbed into the wasteland of TV (she was in Boy Meets World), though it's understandable.
- Playing against Miss Talent of 1994 could have been a thankless task for Joan Ryan, but she delivers a terrific performance as Judy/Ginger. She's defined solely by her child in her first few songs (in "Tina's Mother" she refers to herself as Tina's mother four different times, and if you don't think it's possible to be over-the-top mousy, you haven't heard this CD). But when she arrives at "Angel Mom," she has an epiphany--I think this is when she becomes Ginger, though it's not obvious from the song, but she does stutter "Momma? M-m-momma?"--and suddenly becomes self-confident and, well, ruthless. What fun to hear her change in mid-song! Anyway, she has a great, creamy voice, which brings even more irony to the line "I can't sing a note" in "Where Tina Gets It From."
- Yes, Loren Freeman is a man. Sylvia is a drag role. He camps it up nicely (his "Oh, who cares?" is hysterical) and sounds properly bitchy and sardonic as the sleazy, ambitious talent agent. His songs are mostly patter songs in the Rex Harrison mode.
- Rita McKenzie has only one number in the show, but it's the showstopper "I Hate Musicals," a sample of which was the impetus for me to buy this CD. In this crowd of extravagant performances, she wins hands down.
- Nancy Linari has one of the great songs on the CD in her guise as Myrna Thorn, "Teaching Third Grade," but except for a reprise of that song, she doesn't have much to do in the score--her role as Emily Block had no songs associated with it. She's delightful as the burned-out, self-absorbed teacher/former actress who was "mugged, raped, and robbed before [she] left Penn Station," which put paid to her acting career.
- Joanne Baum goes from the gawky, untalented Louise Lerman to the ambitious, strong-voiced Eve in her two roles. Her "A Penthouse Apartment" is the jazziest song in the score and shows off her voice to good advantage. I wish she'd had other songs.
- Bob Newhart? Yup, that's him with the line "Honey, I'm home," at the tail end of the score. I can't figure out who he's supposed to be playing--Tina's father? I'm sure he wasn't in the show itself, just on the CD.
- Bernadette Peters? Yup, that's her singing "Unkie's Muncle," which I believe is supposed to be a song that Judy's mother recorded before she rejected her musical career. It's a cute little number that must have been a bitch to get right, with its continual transpositions of familiar phrases (e.g., "the rime is tight," "ain't we fot gun?").
This booklet is unique in my collection: a libretto but no plot summary. Argh! Also, the libretto leaves out lines just spoken during the songs. But it does have cast and song lists, technical details, and pictures of the characters on the back of the booklet.
Don't miss this score, which puts many more elaborate productions to shame. Even if you don't get all the musical and textual references (and God knows I don't), you'll likely find Ruthless! hilarious. People familiar with Lindsay Ridgeway's TV work are urged to check out her turn here. Ruthless! would be a minor acquisition for Bernadette Peters completists, who probably don't know about "Unkie's Muncle" (but who, hopefully, would enjoy the entire production).
Ruthless! The Musical is one of those shows that regional theatre loves to mount, as it's simple and has a small cast. There doesn't seem to be a page specifically dedicated to the musical, but if you follow this Ruthless! The Musical link to Google you'll find a variety of reviews of the regional productions.
Here's a little bit about Rita McKenzie.
Want something on Loren Freeman?
Despite having a too-common name, Joan Ryan is easily findable on the net; this link takes you to a review of her solo album.
I couldn't find a page specifically about Nancy Linari, but if you follow this Nancy Linari link to Google you'll see that she's had an extensive TV career.
Looks like Joanne Baum is going to be in the ensemble of the upcoming revival of Bells Are Ringing.
(Had to remove the Lindsay Ridgeway links--one had turned into a porn link, ugh!)
All non-lyric material copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
I invite other examples, or comments about the examples above. All submitted material will be properly credited and copyrighted to the submitters. Please see the submissions page for more information.
Or, if you're not in a mood to publish, just let me know your opinion of this page.
Return to Bursting with Song Return to Rational Magic current issue Go back to the Rational Magic home page