Ruthless! The Musical
The Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables, Florida opens their 2013-2014 season with "Ruthless! The Musical," which features a cast of six very strong performers.
This musical has a very complicated and campy plot. It many ways it is a cross between "The Bad Seed" and "Gypsy" with a little "Mommie Dearest" thrown in for good measure. The music, by Marvin Laird, is cute if not memorable and the book, by Joel Paley, features some funny moments but occasionally bogs down with too many repetitions of the same joke.
The highlights of this production are the performances. At the top of the list is Amy Miller Brennan who delivers a tour de force performance as the multiple personality mother, Judy Denmark. Brennan is a first-class soprano with a strong belt who knows how to use her voice in the most effective way. Her comedic timing makes her the perfect choice to handle this very demanding role.
She switches from cute to perky to bubble-headed to vicious to devious all with lightning speed during the course of the play, and she handles it flawlessly. If hers were the only strong performance, the production would still be worth seeing, but luckily for the audience five other equally capable performers surround her on stage.
Gabriel Zenone takes on the drag role of Ruth St. Croix and delivers to the audience a mix of Bette Davis coupled with an Elaine Stritch-like voice. He is campy and funny, and he looks good in a dress.
Eight-year-old Julia Dale portrays Tina Denmark, the troubled child with a star obsession. Dale can sing, there is no doubt about it, and at her young age she is showing signs of quickly becoming a theatrical professional. She doesn't manage to steal the show from the adults, but she is more than capable of holding her own.
Sally Bondi and Jenni Hacker give strong performances in their dual roles with Bonti taking on troubled schoolteacher Miss Thorn in Act One and the reporter with questionable sexuality, Miss Block, in Act Two. Hacker plays child Louise Lerman in the first act but is only onstage briefly. Her big moment is in Act Two where she shines as Eve and delivers one of the best numbers in the show, "Penthouse Apartment."
In her role as Lita Encore, Leigh Bennett is spot on in her characterization of this very Ethel Merman-like character. The mannerisms and voice were so realistic that someone needs to revive both "Call Me Madam" and "Gypsy" for her as soon as humanly possible. She is a firs- class singer and belter.
While the performances were excellent, there were two aspects of this production that keeps it from being spectacular. The first is the pacing of the show. At two hours and forty five minutes in length, "Ruthless! The Musical" is a very long show, and in many instances it seems to move very slowly. It almost seemed at times like the actors were told to hold for laughs that weren't there, and while the show is very campy, the amount of scenery chewing that the director, David Arisco, allowed makes one wonder if they must rebuild the sets after every show. Musical director, Eric Alsford, kept the tempos of the numbers bright and lively and if the pacing in between had been at a similar speed this show would have been shorter and much more enjoyable.
The other large detriment to the performance has to do with Alexander Herrin's sound design. While microphones are a blessing to performers, musical theater should not be performed at rock concert levels and in a smallish house like the Miracle Theater, performer microphones should be there to boost unobtrusively the performer's voices. In this case, however, the microphones were so over utilized that it felt as though the entire performance, dialogue included, was being screamed.
If the theater were 4,000 seats instead of only 400, this reviewer suspects that it still would have been overkill. At one point, Dale's microphone went out during the performance and at the tender age of eight years old, she had no problem hitting the back row of the theater with her natural voice. None of the singers in the show had weak voices or, truthfully, any need for amplification.
On the whole, this production is entertaining and the performances of the six cast members more than make up for any flaws in the production or the show itself. Seeing Brennan on stage alone is well worth the ticket price. But when you couple her with the other five members of the cast, the audience is getting a lot of talent for very little money.
"Ruthless! The Musical" runs through Nov. 3 at The Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theater, 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, FL 33134. For tickets and information, call 305-444-9293 or visit www.actorsplayhouse.org.