Thursday, March 3, 2022


 Ruthless! Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley; Music by Marvin Laird.  Echo Theatre at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 24 – March 12, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 2

Director – Jordan Best; Musical Director – Nicholas Griffin; Choreographer – Jacquelyn Richards; Assistant Director – Joel Horwood

Piano 1 – Nicholas Griffin; Piano 2 – Sharon Robinson

Set Design – Ian Croker; Costume Design – Anna Senior; Lighting Design – Linda Buck

Jenna Roberts as Judy Denmark; Jessy Heath as Tina Denmark; Dee Farnell as Sylvia St. Croix; Tracy Noble as Myrna Thorn; Janie Lawson as Lita Encore; Eryn Marshall as Louise / Eve

The title “Ruthless!” is an amusing pun on the name of a character ‘Ruth de la Croix’, an ambitious Hollywood star who appears to have committed suicide, years ago, after receiving a withering crit published by ‘Lita Encore’, who appears – in this very funny satirical musical comedy – insistently singing “I hate musicals!”.  

In a twist of who is who, and who is the mother and daughter of whom – worthy of Shakespeare’s twins in The Comedy of Errors – it turns out that there is more to Ruth than we expect, however ruthless she is – like all the women in this play.  In the end the daughter ‘Tina’ of the daughter ‘Judy’ of the Ruth-less ‘Ruth’ is surrounded by dead bodies – even of her entirely innocent father ‘Fred’(Jim Adamik) – as  she ends the play absolutely sure she is on her way to stardom in Hollywood.  Is it talent for star performing, or merely talent for being ruthless to the point of murdering her Grade 3 school-play lead-part rival, that she has inherited?

We, in the audience, of course cannot  help but laugh at the absurdity and cheer her on, despite the blackness of the comedy.

This production of Ruthless! – the stage mother of all musicals is top quality in all departments – casting; directing; musicianship; choreography; stage, costume, lighting and sound design.  I can only assume the small audience on Wednesday was because of the continuing effects of Covid Omicron on theatre attendance generally.  This show deserves a full house every night.  

After the show, you might like to consider its implications, in our times all these years since Ruthless! won the 1993 New York Outer Critics Circle Award for Off-Broadway Musical.  

Maybe you might wonder about a spoof musical written by two men asking us to laugh at women who insist upon being ruthless to get to the top.  It has been suggested to me, by a thoughtful woman (who also enjoyed the show), that if all these characters were men we would not laugh.

Laughter, she suggested, is the result of contrasting expectations.  Women are not expected to be ruthless, so we find it funny when they behave in this way – especially when taken to the extreme as in this play, ending with murders all round.

But, she suggested, men are commonly expected to indulge in such ruthless behaviour.  I suggest we see this right now exemplified in the extreme by Vladimir Putin.  You may think of less extreme examples – perhaps in relation particularly to some men’s treatment of women, as well as of each other.  If a new Ruthless! consisted of all male characters with the same script, would it be funny – if written by two men; or if it were written by two women?

Maybe you might think that times have changed since the 1990s.  Would anyone write this script today?  Jordan Best, in her Director’s Notes, writes “The more time I spent with it, the more I fell in love with it.  The story is an unhinged joy, the songs are complex, clever and catchy, the lyrics are funny, and the characters are magnificent, grotesque and colourful.  It appealed to the same completely unsubtle directorial spark in me that makes me love playwrights like Moliere and Wilde.  The broad brushstrokes, the caricatures, the coarse humour and the slapstick all come together to give us the belly laugh we so sorely need right now.”

I found myself exactly in this mood when watching Jordan Best’s Ruthless!, performed by a cast that thoroughly understood and demonstrated that complexity, cleverness and catchy quality in every character.  

Though it was a little too loud for my hearing aids (needing a larger audience to absorb the sound, I suspect), I find myself quite unlike Janie Lawson’s grimly critical ‘Lita Encore’: this is a musical I certainly do not hate!  Encore!

Jenna Roberts as Judy Denmark; Dee Farnell as Sylvia St. Croix
Jessy Heath as Tina Denmark

Tracy Noble as Myrna Thorn; Eryn Marshall as Louise (as Pippi Longstocking)
Janie Lawson as Lita Encore