Review: ‘Ruthless! The Musical’ at Creative Cauldron

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Ruthless! The Musical, Creative Cauldron’s season opener, offers a night of supersized camp and comedy.

Alan Naylor, Sophia Manicone, and Katie McManus. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.
Alan Naylor, Sophia Manicone, and Katie McManus. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Ruthless! debuted Off-Broadway in 1992 with music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley. The show spoofs musicals such as Gypsy and Mame and movies like the Bad Seed as it tells the story of the Denmarks, a dysfunctional mother/daughter duo comprised of 1950’s housewife Judy (in a belting performance by Katie McManus) and her starved-for-Broadway moppet Tina (Sophia Manicone making her professional debut in a performance that features a gamut of entertaining facial expressions and strong vocals on tunes like “Born to Entertain”).

Starting the show off right was Miss Sylvia St. Croix (Alan Naylor) who waltzes into the Denmark house determined to make Tina a star, even if it means a few dead bodies along the way. A vision in fur and a delight as a gender-bending narrator, Naylor is a total scene-stealer who lets audiences know that they are in for one silly ride.

Sophia Manicone and Alan Naylor. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.
L to R: Kathy Halenda and Katie McManus. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Kathy Halenda is another scene-stealer as musical-hating theater critic Lita Encore. There is something very Mermanesque about Halenda’s voice. Indeed, she has played Mama Rose many times (including on a national tour) so her voice is perfectly suited to a show which makes frequent sarcastic nods to Gypsy. Her rendition of “I Hate Musicals” left the audience howling.

Director Matt Conner assembled an all-around strong cast with many entertaining numbers like “Teaching Third Grade,” sung by Shaina Virginia Kuhn as frustrated thespian Miss Thorn. Kara-Tameika Watkins provided simple but appropriate choreography for the entire cast in numbers like “Ruthless!”

Margie Jervis took on the dual role of scenic and costume designer, providing a set that features a quick change from the pink florals preferred by 1950’s housewives (with matching scarf and apron on housewife-in-chief Judy Denmark) to decor befitting a Broadway diva later in the show. Jervis drenched Sylvia St. Croix in an impressive panoply of hats, baubles and jewels and Miss Thorn’s oversized suit and multi-layered glasses were a hoot. A coffee table in the middle of the set provided the perfect stage-on-a-stage for these dueling divas to belt on.

Sophia Manicone and Alan Naylor. Photo by Photo by Keith Waters, Kx. Photography.
Sophia Manicone and Alan Naylor. Photo by Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

The thunder and lightning provided by Lighting Designer Joseph Lovins added to the camp whenever a character got a devilish idea as did the creepy, atmospheric music played by Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy on piano. A doorbell that plays a melody from Cats when rung shows that this show spares no attention to detail in mocking the lengths that divas will go to become stars.

Creative Cauldron’s Ruthless! The Musical is a hilarious night of frivolity. It’s musical theatre heaven.

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Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission.

Ruthless! The Musical plays through October 30, 2016, at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.

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