My first experience with “Ruthless, the Musical,” was in 1993, when it made its west coast debut at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. Much to my pleasant surprise, a revival of this amusing but dark musical comedy takes the stage at Theatre Palisades. With shades of Gypsy, Auntie Mame, A Chorus Line, and the Bad Seed, this story begins quite innocent and frivolous, then quickly evolves into a literal ‘dog eat dog, cat fight,’ between two young girls vying for the coveted role of Pippi Longstocking in the school play. Enter Benni Ruby, who was truly born to be a star, a true gem of the musical theatre genre, as the lead role of Tina Denmark, where nothing or no one will get in her way to the top.
Being told by her competitor Louise (Jessica Stone), that she ‘has no range,’ and could never land the lead, Tina musters up all her energy and inner devilish inclinations to become the star, rather than an understudy, and in turn, finds no other solution than to kill Louise. Ironically, the audience comes to learn that Benni Ruby, as Tina, does indeed have quite a range of both emotion and talent, through her polished tap dancing skills and her amazing vocal belting. Not too mention, she is quite sophisticated in revealing emotions ranging from anger to happiness, frustration to pride, through vivid facial expressions and physical slapstick. The entire cast is female driven, with the uber talented Jenna Nicole Sullivan portraying Tina’s mother Judy Denmark in true 1950’s housewife style, with a dazzling transformation to Broadway diva in her own right; Jon Sparks as Sylvia St. Croix, strong powerhouse talent agent; Randi Cee as vivacious Lita Encore; and Carly Reeves, the perfect caricature of drama teacher Myrna Thorn.
While the play has a camp/cartoonish vibe, perhaps this is why the show has universal appeal and wide following for all genders and ages, spanning the generations from its beginning in the early 90’s to current time. Ruby’s performance is a standout, and larger than life, a Shirley Temple meets Ethel Merman. Some musical numbers that garnered quite a welcoming reaction from the audience were: “Born to Entertain,” “I Want the Girl and naturally, the signature tune, with reprise, “Ruthless.”
Ruthless is a must see this holiday season. You won’t be sorry.
Theatre Palisades Pierson Playhouse
Through December 8
941 Temescal Canyon
Fridays and Saturdays 8pm