Friday, March 4, 2022

RUTHLESS - The musical


Directed by Jordan Best – Musical Direction by Nicholas Griffin

Choreographed by Jacquelyn Richards – Set designed by Ian Croker

Presented by Echo Theatre Company – The Q, Queanbeyan until 12 March.

Performance on 3rd March reviewed by Bill Stephens.

This glorious Paley and Laird 1992 spoof on the Broadway musical is given a rather wonderful production by Echo Theatre Company in the Q in Queanbeyan.

The musical traces the rise and rise of child prodigy, Tina Denmark (played with manic intent by Jessy Heath) who is gifted with a surfeit of talent and will stop at nothing to achieve her ambition to become a Broadway Star.

If this brings to mind movies like “The Bad Seed” and “All About Eve” you’re on the right track. But also think musicals like “Applause”, “Gypsy”, “Mame”, even “A Chorus Line”, all of which have been plundered by composer, Marvin Laird and writer, Joel Paley for the clever pastiche score and cliché-ridden script, to create this hilarious over-the-top send-up.

For devotees of Broadway musicals much of the fun in “Ruthless” comes from recognising which Broadway show is being referenced at any given moment. But even if you agree with one of the characters, theatre critic Lita Encore (marvellously portrayed by Janie Lawson in full Ethel Merman mode) who provides one of the highpoints of this production when she trumpet’s defiantly “I Hate Musicals”, you’ll find it hard to resist the joyous silliness of the concept.

Tracey Noble (Myrna Thorn) and Jenna Roberts (Judy Denmark)

Director Jordan Best has assembled a superb cast who obviously relish the opportunity to pull out all stops to cope with the myriad of preposterous revelations and plot twists. Jenna Roberts is quite marvellous as Judy Denmark, the mother of the ambitious Tina, who despite her best efforts to remain the perfect housewife becomes a Broadway Star herself. 

Jenna Roberts (Judy Denmark) and Jessy Heath (Tina Denmark)

Dee Farnell channels Patti Lupone to hilarious affect as the tart-tongued theatrical agent Sylvia St. Croix, while Tracy Noble scores as the wonderfully funny third-grade teacher, Myrna Thorn, herself a frustrated actress who battles heroically to stage her appalling school musical “Pippi in Tahiti”. Eryn Marshall contributes to the fun in two cameos, firstly as the unfortunate Louise, then later as the conniving would-be actress, Eve.

Anna Senior’s quite lovely costumes, complimented by Ian Croker’s  elegant cartoon -colourful setting, and Jacquelyn Richards spot-on choreography, all provide  a professional gloss to the production.

Unfortunately all this good work is  marred by the stadium level sound design which had the cast battling to get the clever lyrics heard over it and which distorted the excellent on-stage  keyboard accompaniments of Nick Griffin and Sharon Robinson, particularly unfortunate during the overture. Some too low lighting levels and the notoriously slow main stage curtain which spoiled comedic scenes which required a fast curtain and blackouts, didn’t help either.

Those gripes apart, this is a delightfully staged production of a rarely seen but wonderfully entertaining musical.   


                                                     Photos by Ben Appleton.

  This review also published in  AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.