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Review: RUTHLESS THE MUSICAL Kills at Creative Cauldron

"Dying is easy, comedy is hard". The old adage has been attributed to countless comedians over the years. When a musical comedy attempts to combine comedy and death, the outcome can either be successful (think Monty Python) or fall on its face. Ruthless! The Musical, a 1992 off Broadway campy musical, which opened this week at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church, falls into the latter category. The intermission-less show written by Marvin Laird and Joel Paley has funny bits, and a few memorable songs, but overall the piece, which has had a successful life in regional theater, is just flat. Sure, it spoofs musicals like Gypsy and movies like All About Eve, but the humor is a bit rudimentary and plays more like a bad SNL skit, then a well-polished farce.

Creative Cauldron does its best to navigate the clutter. Director Matt Conner has done an admirable job of almost making a show-within-a-show out of the solo numbers. Having performers take the "stage" atop a coffee table was a nice effect and really helped in the intimate space. I particularly liked how some characters deliberately "opened" an invisible door, while other characters ignored it purposefully. It was a nice touch to play up the farce side and add a little more humor.

Overall, the cast does a fine job. Particular standouts are Alan Naylor, as super-agent Sylvia St. Croix and veteran Kathy Halenda, as musical-hating Lita Encore. Mr. Naylor is simply divine as Ms. St. Croix, and really gets to the humor of the piece and adds a nice touch of savoir faire. I especially enjoy how he does not let playing a female character turn into a caricature. Ms. Halenda also is superb, notably in her tour de force, "I Hate Musicals", one of the more well written songs in the piece.

Newcomer Sophia Manicone, a local 6th grader is making her professional debut as young starlet, Tina Denmark. Ms. Manicone is adorable and sinister in the part and really carries her own with the rest of the professionals in the cast. As Tina's mother, Judy, Katie McManus brings her usual big belt to the role and does a nice job playing Mrs. Denmark with sincerity.

Overall, while the performances and direction were decent, the technical aspects of the show were lacking. Margie Jervis created an intimate space with her set design, but the color palate of the set was too gaudy. If that was the effect, then it worked, but at times it distracted. Likewise, Joseph Lovins' lighting design left a lot of shadows on the actor's faces and was not helped by wrong cues executed.

I would be remiss if I did not point out Walter "Bobby" McCoy's excellent musical direction. Besides doing an excellent work with his actors, MR. McCoy's piano skills on this difficult piece were extraordinary. Having worked with MR. McCoy myself, I can attest to just how professional and dedicated this young man is, who is already making a name for himself and will continue to do great things.

Overall, Creative Cauldron does a fine job with this piece. It is not a bad production; it is a good production with mediocre material. I much prefer intimate theater settings like Creative Cauldron, but I wonder if a show like this needs to play in a bigger house to make it more broad and over the top. While dying may be easy, the cast and creative team of Ruthless makes the comedy come easy as well.

Ruthless: The Musical plays through October 30, 2016 at Creative Cauldron, 410 S Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046. Tickets for Ruthless! can be purchased at or by calling 703-436-9948.

Photo Credits: Keith Waters, Kx Photography

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Keith Tittermary is a Washington DC based music director, pianist, and actor. He recently appeared as Horton in Damascus Theatre Company's Seussical and as Brian in Red Branch Theatre's Ave... (read more about this author)