Monday, July 24, 2023

"Ruthless!" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

In their first year as a company, Theatre Elision produced the Off-Broadway musical Ruthless!, a dark comedy that's a loving, albeit twisted, spoof of musical theater. They also did it again the next year to open their space Elision Playhouse, and are currently bringing it back for a short two-week run. I saw it opening night with a nearly full house, and it was a riot! Hilarious, fantastically performed by the six-woman cast (half of whom were in their original production), tons of musical theater references, well staged with great costumes, and just all-around fun. I highly recommend you get your tickets now to see one of the five remaining performances, including pay-as-you-can tonight (click here for info and details).

This Off-Broadway musical from the early '90s spins a dark tale of a talented little 8-year-old girl who kills her rival to get a part in the school play. And the killing doesn't stop there. Tina is doted on by her mother Judy, and attracts the attention of talent agent/coach Sylvia. When Tina loses the lead role of the original musical Pippi Longstocking in Tahiti, written by the teacher and former performer Miss Thorn, to the less talented Louise, she takes matters into her own hands. Her mother is at first shocked that her daughter would go to such lengths to perform, until she realizes her own talent and connection to show business.*

Tina and Mommy (Amanada Mai and Christine Wade)
(photo by Jolie Morehouse Olson)
This wickedly funny tale is gleefully performed by the cast in a deliciously campy style (including a consistently specific way of pronouncing the word "school"). One of the great things about this piece is each actor gets at least one big song in which to show their talent; no one sits in the background for too long (actors not in a scene literally sit along the back wall of the stage). In the larger roles, Amanda Mai is equal parts adorable youngster and malevolent schemer; Christine Wade is wonderful (and what a voice!) reprising her role as the perfect housewife turned diva (with an ever-present spatula); and Vanessa Gamble is hilariously dramatic as Sylvia, with a cigarette seemingly glued to her fingers (who cares if she's too young for the role). Supporting players, some playing multiple roles, also shine. Isabella Dunsieth plays the teacher, with the song "Teaching Third Grade" a highlight. Completing the ensemble are two more original cast members - local music-comedy legend Greta Grosch, bringing the house down with a song that anyone who loves musicals will love - "I Hate Musicals;" and Deidre Cochran with two big moments - the silly "Pippi Song" as Louise and as the All About Eve character. Under director Lindsay Fitzgerald, the campy comedy tone is brilliantly consistent as the cast milks every moment of hilarity in the script (and perhaps even add a few more).*

Vanessa Gamble as Sylvia (photo by Jolie Morehouse Olson )
The cast is accompanied as usual by resident Music Director Harrison Wade on piano, with Miles Whealy on drums. The band also gets involved with the action in a way I won't spoil here, but is one of the comedy highlights of the show. The musical highlight is the group number and title song, with some incredible harmonies coming from these six women. Set pieces and props are appropriate and well-used for greatest comedic effect, projections provide further location specificity, and the costumes are spot on, from Judy's 50s housewife outfit complete with apron, to Sylvia's chic jumpsuit and fox fur, to little Tina's baby doll dresses.

This 90-minute dark comedy gem is a must-see for music-theater lovers. Ruthless! continues through July 30 only.

the women of Ruthless! (photo by Jolie Morehouse Olson)

*Some text adapted from what I wrote about the 2018 production.