All camp, all the time
Ruthless! The Musical
Sacramento, CA 95814
The best kind of clichés are those that have been thoroughly turned on their heads, and Ruthless! The Musical, goes about three-quarters of the way toward full-on upside-down. This over-the-top skewering of The Bad Seed, All About Eve, Mame, and Gypsy gives the talented cast a chance to camp it up in a very small space—the Sacramento Theatre Company stages it in the Pollock Stage, which is the sort of intimate venue where every arched eyebrow can lift an elephant.
And there are arched eyebrows galore, along with gasps, shudders and every other melodramatic device known to man—or at least known to director Michael Laun, who is also STC’s producing director. It is, first and foremost, a parody; that means subtlety is not the name of the game.
The premise starts with a goldilocked third grader (a role shared by Laren Metzinger and Jillie Kate Randle, two members of STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory) who seems to have all the talent in the world. Her doting, June Cleaver-ish mother, played by the remarkable Andrea St. Clair, doesn’t have seem to have such talent—and can’t figure out where little Tina got it. Enter the school play, and a talent manager (Michael R.J. Campbell in drag, and we promise, he is not a drag at all) with a plot to make Tina a star.
It gets even more complicated from there, and involves murder, false identities, unrestrained ambition, revenge and most importantly, a theater critic who sings “I Hate Musicals” in the first act and gets her just desserts in the second.
St. Clair is impeccable as the quickly corrupted perfect housewife and mother, while Becky Saunders and Netty Carey juggle a boatload of roles with finesse. As the child star, Metzinger was delightfully cloying.
But Campbell is the scene stealer from the moment he sweeps in as Sylvia St. Croix, pulling off a Mama Rose/Auntie Mame turn that carries with it more than a dash of the dark side.
Graham Sobelman provides the musical direction, and keeps it simple. The two incredibly detailed sets by Jarrod Bodensteiner are wonderful, but necessitate a long-ish intermission that contributes to a long run-time—and frankly, it does go on a bit. The problem with parody is when it tries for one joke too many, and this show can’t seem to resist that trap.
That said, Ruthless! The Musical is so successful at skewering the flaws of the genre that it’s a very good choice for people who don’t really care for musicals.