Fresh from her scene-stealing performance as Mack the Knife’s jealous main squeeze and betrayer, pickpocket Jenny Diver, in Raleigh Little Theatre’s high-octane production of The Threepenny Opera, 29-year-old Raleigh actress Izzy Burger is doubly delightful in her dual roles as humdrum housewife and single mother Judy Denmark and glamorous Broadway diva Ginger DelMarco in Ruthless! The Musical, composer Marvin Laird and lyricist and librettist by Joel Paley’s cheeky film-noirish spoof of backstage musicals and movie melodramas from the 1950 and 1960s.
Abandoned by her husband, Judy Denmark does her chirpy Donna Reed/June Cleaver best to give her precocious eight-year-old daughter Tina Denmark (played by 11-year-old Katie Regittko) a normal home life; but something goes terribly wrong and when Tina fails to win the lead role in the third-grade musical, Pippi [Longstocking] in Tahiti, she murders her victorious rival, the untalented Louise Lerman (played by the gangly fright-wigged eight-grader Samantha Rahn) — and Tina and Judy Denmark’s lives become a tawdry tabloid melodrama that would run 24/7/365 on today’s lowest-common-denominator cable news networks.
Izzy Burger’s miraculous transformation from vapid but perpetually cheerful Judy Denmark in Act I to petulant Broadway star Ginger DelMarco in Act II is wonderful to behold. She putters as Judy, but she pulls out all the melodramatic stops as the self-dramatizing Ginger. Bravo!
Katie Regittko puts a gleam in the eye of murderous child prodigy Tina Denmark, and Samantha Rahn makes the most of her brief transit on the stage as the ill-fated Louise Lerman. But Alison B. Lawrence is a scream as Judy Denmark’s pushy adoptive mother Lita Encore, a theater critic whose acid tongue, poison pen, and undisguised hatred for musicals make her the bête noir of Broadway.
Burgandy Zikowitz is amusing as third-grade drama teacher, playwright, and aspiring actress Miss Thorn; and Ann Forsthoefel’s unsubtle advances as lesbian investigative reporter Miss Block are another source of amusement. But Sarah Winter is a hoot as Ginger DelMarco’s supremely efficient but twitchy and increasingly unhinged personal assistant Eve; and Timothy Cherry — who is probably best known for donning drag to impersonate the Ugly Stepsister Henrietta in RLT‘s annual production of Cinderella — camps it up hilariously again as Tina Denmark’s sleazy and utterly ruthless agent.
RLT director Haskell Fitz-Simons and choreographer Missy Dapper’s crisp and clever musical staging superbly showcase the cast’s comic characterizations; and musical director Julie Florin (piano 1), Cameron Bolin (piano 2), Aaron Bittkofer (bass), and Emily Draughon (drums) provide spritely accompaniment.
Scenic designer Thomas Mauney vividly creates the living rooms of Judy Denmark’s typical suburban home and Ginger DelMarco’s ritzy penthouse apartment, and costume designer Vicki Olson provides a flashy period wardrobe for the cast. Together, they help make this uproarious rendition of Ruthless! a splendid season-opener.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 16th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/08/16/1415242/slow-pacing-bogs-down-stage-spoof.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 12th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/08/rlts-ruthless-the-musical-is-a-zany-spoof-of-1950s-and-1960s-musicals-and-movie-melodramas/.)
Raleigh Little Theatre presents RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL at 8 p.m. Aug. 18-20, 3 p.m. Aug. 21, 8 p.m. Aug. 25-27, and 3 p.m. Aug. 28 in the Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919/821-3111 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows.
The Musical: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruthless! (Wikipedia) and http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&title=Ruthless! (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.