|Photo by Blueprint Studios|
RUTHLESS, The Musical: Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley; Music by Marvin Laird, written in 1992, is one of those off-Broadway (that is New York, as opposed to being off the Sydney Broadway, just down the street to the Seymour Centre) musicals that can become, in a city where musicals are such a BIG part of their theatre diet (financial raison d'être?), a cult hit. It ran at the Players Theatre in New York (199 seat space) for some 342 performances (two of the understudies were Natalie Portman and Britney Spears! Wow! So long ago.)
The play is a kind of spoof / black comedy / self referencing "love-in" musical that, maybe, only musical theatre 'indulgees' could really, truly love. In this show, with an all female cast of 6, of ruthless women with the temperaments of Eve Harrington (one of the many in-jokes) and, THE Lady M. - with blood on some of their hands, to achieve their ambitions - one of the characters, Lita Encore (Geraldine Turner) sings, I HATE MUSICALS. And the song/lyrics may, indeed, strike a visceral chord in many sitting there in the auditorium.
Now, if you follow my blog, you all should have assayed by now that musicals are my guilty pleasure. But they do have to have more than tongue-in-cheek to keep me totally happy. So, this show tried my patience in the first act, tempted me in the second, but, ultimately, had me nodding in agreement with Ms Encore, the show's theatre critic character, that I hate musicals - most of them, that is, especially of this kind.
The Theatre Division is a new creative organisation, led by Lisa Freshwater and Alistair Thomson, who began a conversation with the Musical Theatre Star (she is to me), Katrina Retallick (e.g. FALSETTOS; DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS; and NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY) and came up with this show as a project she would love to be involved with: RUTHLESS. And the central role of Judy Denmark, has all the teasers for an actress/singer/comedian to want to have a go at. It is the reason to see this production. Ms Retallick is a knock-out in every demand of the production, and then some ... .! Count in the extra joy and pleasure to see Geraldine Turner on stage again - and what a turn she gives in all of her great personal, inimitable style (just how much impact and poised energy does she bring to her milliner's stylish creation, or is it the other way round?) - plus, Caitlin Berry, Jade Gillis (who alternates the child role with Madison Russo), Meredith O'Reilly and Margi De Ferranti, particularly, as Myrna Thorne, and some pleasure can be anticipated.
In summary, I think everything was ok, except the actual Book, Lyrics and Music - the Show. A pity. Set and Costume Design by Mason Browne, especially the costumes, are terrific; the Choreography by Christopher Horsey, tailored to this small space, is fun; whilst the Musical Direction, on a fairly ordinary score, led by Brad Miller, has control and balance. It is Directed by Lisa Freshwater whose last work I saw was BITTER/SWEET, a new musical in development, in 2010.
What with the Hayes Theatre, the work of Stephen Colyer, and now The Theatre Division, Musical Theatre is present in Sydney, and offering an affordable and production standard challenge to those BIG SHOWS we keep seeing repeating, repeating, and repeating. So, Best Wishes with the coming projects.