BWW Review: Desert Rose's RUTHLESS! is Nonstop, Mindless Fun
RUTHLESS! is a hilarious musical send-up of shows and movies about ruthless females of all ages who will do anything to achieve their goals. Desert Rose's production is expertly presented, from the acting to the singing and dancing to the sets to the costume design.
RUTHLESS! tells the story of eight-year-old Tina Denmark (Elizabeth Schmelling, who is actually an adult), the talented and overly adorable diva-to-be who would do anything to land the lead in the school production of Pippi Longstocking. Unfortunately for all concerned, the teacher (Dana Adkins) instead casts Louise (Leanna Rodgers), whose parents are big donors to the drama program. Tina's solution: kill Louise and take over.
THE BAD SEED provides much of the basis for the story, especially in Act I. In Act II, the audience can also find references to ALL ABOUT EVE. The outrageous character of Sylvia St. Croix (Robbie Wayne) is reminiscent of Mama Rose in GYPSY. As serious as those stories are, RUTHLESS! is the polar opposite - it provides nonstop silliness and mindless fun. I also noticed a parallel to the comedy INSPECTING CAROL, in which an individual has killed himself because of a bad review; the reviewer here (played by Jaci Davis) has a wonderful number in which she explains how much she hates musicals. In addition, the director notes some parallels to AUNTIE MAME.
All the characters are outrageous in different ways, and these six cast members, all of whom perform superbly, make the most of their characters' foibles. I love Christine Tringali Nunes's vapid stare and Stepford wife mannerisms as Tina's mother. Elizabeth Schmelling's tap dance is fabulous. The only reason that Robbie Wayne does not completely steal the show in his overdone makeup and high heels is that he has so much competition.
Bruce Weber's sets and costumes are also terrific, and give the feel both of the period (mid-century) and of the characters. The leopard hat that Sylvia wears is itself worthy of a laugh. Watch the portrait of Tina when the spot highlights it.
RUTHLESS!, unlike many of Desert Rose's previous summer productions, is a relatively family-friendly PG-13; it is definitely a mainstream, screwball musical. There is a connection between the show and Desert Rose (which usually provides productions of special interest to the LGBTQ+ community): Director Loren Freeman played the lead in the original Los Angeles cast.
For those who have not seen THE BAD SEED, it would be helpful to rent the movie to understand the references. However, the show is funny even without such familiarity.
If you want an evening of goofiness and laughs, go see RUTHLESS!
The rest of the production staff consists of Steven Smith (musical director and keyboardist), Phil Murphy (lighting design), Duke Core (lighting technician), Adrian Niculescu (sound design), Miguel Gomez (sound technician), and Rusty Waters and Ruth Braun (assistant costumers).
RUTHLESS! will run through July 14th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets, which range from $34 to $37, may be purchased at www.DesertRosePlayhouse.org, or by phone at 760-202-3000.
Season tickets for 2019-2020 are currently on sale via the web site and by telephone. The new season's offerings consist of: DIE, MOMMIE DIE!, by Charles Busch; a return engagement of CHRISTMAS WITH THE CRAWFORDS; the world premiere of Andy Halliday's THOSE MUSCLE BOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH; Jonathan Harvey's BEAUTIFUL THING, about two working class London teens falling in love; and a new play series for which Desert Rose is accepting submissions.
Photo Credit: Mike Thomas