Brüka Theatre’s Ruthless!
Meet dancing, singing Tina Denmark, a third grader with talent. She’s the curly haired, smiling one—dressed like Shirley Temple but swinging her hips like Lolita—in Brüka Theatre’s production of Ruthless!, a musical comedy by Joel Paley.
When little Tina (Connor Norton) auditions for her school’s play, Pippi in Tahiti, she belts out a show tune, does ballet, jazz and even an interpretative dance, her limbs twisting and face contorting until she lands in a limp heap on the floor.
Landing the lead role is important to Tina. She has the talent to make it to the top. She knows it. Everyone knows it, from Tina’s housewifey mom to the loud, pushy Sylvia St. Clair, who shows up on the family’s doorstep hoping to mentor Tina in the dark art of being a star.
Tina doesn’t need help. Ruthless ambition is in the girl’s blood.
But Tina doesn’t get the part. Tina’s teacher—an aging frustrated wannabe star, herself—gives it to Louise Lerman, casting Tina in the role of Pippi’s sidekick pooch.
Jealousy ensues. Tina bullies Louise, demanding that Louise turn over the lead role. When Louise remarks, “Over my dead body,” well, turns out Tina Denmark ain’t no Shirley Temple. In fact, during one set change, a large portrait of young Tina reveals glowing horns coming out of her head.
The script is hilarious, providing fodder for the cast to yuk it up with dopey puns, confused identities, running gags and physical humor —things this cast pulls off with impeccable comedic timing.
Adam Whitney boasts a great set of legs as the flamboyant Sylvia St. Clair, who wants nothing more than to get her gloved claws on Tina—and a vicarious taste of fame. Fun posturing. Sturdy voice. Looks great in purple. Dances well in heels.
Debra Lynn Hull sparkles as Myrna Thorne, Tina’s pill-popping teacher whose dress and pumps match the color of the No. 2 pencils in her hair. Thorne’s not thrilled with her leadership role in the public education system. She sings, “Life is a bitch, and it starts in third grade.”
As Tina’s mom in Act One, Amy Ginder looks and acts like a displaced Stepford Wife, all frilly housedress and robotic curtsies. When standing at ease, Ginder’s hands turn out at right angles from her aproned hips. Answering the phone, “Yes, this is Tina’s mom,” she seems to have forgotten her own name. When someone actually uses her name, she’s taken aback. “Judy Denmark, yes, that’s my name, Judy Denmark.”
When the dim-witted homemaker finds out that talent is in her blood, she turns her psychopathic daughter in to the authorities. Tina goes to juvie. Mom reinvents herself as Ginger Delmarco, a fashionable childless star who doesn’t lift a finger around the house but stays awake at night thinking about defrosting the refrigerator.
All’s well until conniving Tina gets out of jail and appears on Mommy Dearest’s doorstep. Brüka’s child actress Connor Norton, convincing as child actress Tina, displays a stunning range of abilities. She tap-dances, sings and murders with astonishing aplomb.
From a musical standpoint, Ruthless! can’t be an easy gig. The players sing much of the dialogue. And though they’re accompanied by a terrific live band, it’s still tricky business. The resulting vocals are inconsistent, sometimes great and occasionally not-so-great.
Of course, in the end, there’s a moral to the story: "The world can kiss your ass if you’ve got talent."