Comedic gifts of 'Ruthless' cast make satirical musical sparkle

| Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

Ambition runs spectacularly and humorously amok in "Ruthless! The Musical."

This small gem of a satirical musical about the consuming drive for stardom is filling the Cabaret at Theater Square with a hilarious and lively staging.

Director Van Kaplan, choreographer Keisha Lalama and a cast of six keep the pace brisk and the comedy delightfully broad as they skewer the overdriven ambitions and sly maneuvers of actors, directors, producers and theater critics.

At the center of the story is practically perfect third-grader Tina Denmark, who turns homicidal when she's passed over for the title role in her school's production of "Pippi in Tahiti" and cast in a minor role as Pippi's dog, Puddles.

But that's just the beginning.

Turns out that everyone — from Tina's teacher, who wrote "Pippi in Tahiti," to Tina's grandmother, a theater critic who hates musicals — has suppressed dreams and dark secrets.

Eventually, all is revealed through a series of highly dramatic but reasonably plausible plot twists and dramatic revelations. The proceedings are further enlivened by sly satirical references to plays such as "The Bad Seed," "Gypsy" and the movie "All About Eve," which will amuse theater buffs without mystifying the uninitiated.

The cast is first-rate, beginning with Allison Joyce, who plays Tina with a comedic sense that's delightfully polished for someone whose day job is being a fifth-grade pupil at Avonworth Elementary School. She has a spot-on ability to know when to deliver a line straight and when to role her eyes for satiric effect. She and Marlana Dunn, who plays Tina's mother Judy, partner well in their mother-and-daughter roles, as well as the satire of the song "Kisses and Hugs."

Dunn comes into her own in the second act, when a series of revelations bring glamour and other major changes to her life.

From his first entrance, the dynamic Jonathan Visser triumphs as Tina's glitzy, take-charge manager Sylvia St. Croix.

Kara Mikula, as theater critic and Judy's adoptive mother Lita Encore, raises the comedy bar with her solo "I Hate Musicals."

Kristiann Menotiades shows comedic and acting range in double-duty roles as Tina's nerdy teacher, Myrna Thorn, whose frustrated show-biz ambitions led her to write "Pippi in Tahiti," and sneaky reporter Emily Block.

Courtney Bassett injects fun into her roles in the first half as Louise Lerman and in the second half as Judy's ambition-driven assistant, Eve.

Coming in at just under two hours with one 15 minute intermission, "Ruthless! The Musical!" should be a hit with theater buffs and those looking for over-the-top laughs.

Additional Information:

'Ruthless! The Musical'

Produced by: CLO Cabaret

When: Through May 6 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, with some extra dates

Admission: $34.75-$44.75

Where: Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or

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