The Bad Seed met Gypsy met All About Eve met Mame met a tickled-to-death audience of musical theater lovers on Sunday as Musical Theatre Guild presented their latest, a one-night-only concert staged reading of the murderously funny cult off-Broadway spoof Ruthless! The Musical.
Eileen Bowman gave the audience at Santa Monica’s Moss Theatre a taste of what has made her a San Diego theater treasure in a stellar MTG debut as Judy Denmark, aka Mrs. Tina’s Mother, just your typical suburban housewife with an absentee husband and an eight-year-old daughter willing to do anything to become a Broadway star, beginning (though not ending) with murder.
The Bad Seed’s Rhoda Penmark and All About Eve’s Eve Harrington could take a tip or two from daughter Tina Denmark (Brennley Brown, stardom-bound), who discovers that the easiest way for an understudy to get rid of a second-rate leading lady (Shauney Markey, a pint-sized treat as pigtailed blonde Louise Lerman, the ill-fated star of Pippi in Tahiti, The Musical) is to hang her with a jump rope from the catwalk of their elementary school theater and make it look like an accident.
From then on, the sky’s the limit for Tina, or would be were the petite killer’s crime not found out, a guilty verdict sending the pre-teen terror off to the Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingenues.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Tina’s Mother discovers to her shock and delight that she is in fact the progeny of late, great Broadway star Ruth Del Marco, prompting the heretofore talentless Judy to don turban and caftan, transforming herself into two-time Tony-winner Ginger “I’m talented! God help me, I’m talented!” Del Marco.
Also figuring prominently in Tina’s descent into reform school hell and Ginger’s rise to Broadway superstardom are:
Talent agent Sylvia St. Croix (Todd Nielsen, so sensational in drag that one imagines a whole slew of female leads he’d kill in); former thespian-turned-3rd-grade teacher Miss Thorn (a deliciously quirky Lindsey Alley); Eve (Markey again, doubly delightful), Ginger’s personal assistant, doing for/to Ginger what Eve Harrington did for/to Margo Channing; dirt-digging Modern Thespian reporter Miss Block (the marvelous Alley in butch mode); and drama critic Lita Encore (Pamela Hamill channeling Ethel Merman to big-voiced perfection), whose theme song “I Hate Musicals” proves so true, she subjects even granddaughter Tina to her poison pen.
Under director Rick Sparks expert comedic baton (assisted by Jeffrey Christopher Todd, also making a surprise unbilled cameo), MTG’s six sensational stars (half MTG members, half guest artists) could not have been more brilliant, with a special tip of the hat to 6th-grade triple-threat Brown, with charisma and pipes to rival the best on Broadway. That this sextet of Opening Night-ready performances could have been whipped into shape in the 25 hours of rehearsal allowed by Actors Equity (with scarcely a look at their in-hand scripts) is nothing short of miraculous.
Making his MTG debut, musical director extraordinaire Gregory Nabours merits highest marks for the cast’s all-around splendid vocalizing to songs by composer Marvin Laird and book-and-lyric writer Joel Paley, in addition to providing expert keyboard accompaniment, joined on drums by Brian Cannady. Choreographer Joseph Corella gets a round of applause for some terrific toe-tapping dance sequences. Sean McGarry’s lighting design gave the scenery-free production a thoroughly professional air as did A. Jeffrey Schoenberg and his AJS Costumes. (Special kudos to Nielsen’s guy-to-glamazon transformation.)
Jill Marie Burke was production coordinator. John W. Calder, III was stage manager, assisted by Stacey Cortez and Kirsten Shook.
As with so many Musical Theatre Guild readings before it, this latest MTG smash begs the question: Why haven’t we seen a fully-staged L.A. production of Ruthless! The Musical since its 2005 run at the Hudson?
Fortunately, MTG gave those in attendance Sunday at the Moss ample reason to celebrate the cult hit’s return, even if for one night only.
The Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, 3131 Olympic Blvd. Santa Monica.
April 6, 2014
Photos: Alan Weston