RLT’s “Ruthless! The Musical” Is a Zany Spoof of 1950s and 1960s Musicals and Movie Melodramas

The cast of "Ruthless!" includes (from left) Izzy Burger as Judy Denmark, Katie Regittko as Tina Denmark, and Timothy Cherry as Sylvia St. Croix (photo by Stuart Wagner)
The cast of "Ruthless!" includes (from left) Izzy Burger as Judy Denmark, Katie Regittko as Tina Denmark, and Timothy Cherry as Sylvia St. Croix (photo by Stuart Wagner)

The cast of "Ruthless!" includes (from left) Izzy Burger as Judy Denmark, Katie Regittko as Tina Denmark, and Timothy Cherry as Sylvia St. Croix (photo by Stuart Wagner)
The cast of "Ruthless!" includes (from left) Izzy Burger as Judy Denmark, Katie Regittko as Tina Denmark, and Timothy Cherry as Sylvia St. Croix (photo by Stuart Wagner)

Raleigh Little Theatre will open its 2011-12 Sutton Series with the wickedly funny musical comedy Ruthless! The Musical, under the direction of Haskell Fitz-Simons, on Aug. 12-13, 18-21, and 25-28 in its Cantey V. Sutton Theatre. This zany spoof of 1950s and 1960s Broadway musicals and Fifties and Sixties movie melodramas features music by Marvin Laird and a book and lyrics by Joel Paley.

Ruthless! is extraordinarily witty,” claims Haskell Fitz-Simons. “The playwright just had way too much fun writing it, as did the composer. They are just wicked, wicked men. They took all their favorite movies and satirized them. It’s mostly The Bad Seed [1954 play, 1956 film], but also Gypsy [1959 musical, 1962 film] and All About Eve [1950 film]. There are references to countless musicals and movies of the last century. There’s hardly a line in it that doesn’t reference something.”

Fitz-Simons adds, “The writers spoof film-noirish kind of banters, full of significant pauses; and the orchestra chimes in with chords and stuff. It’s just a lot of fun….

“In my position,” long-time Raleigh Little Theatre artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons confesses, “I collect soundtracks of musicals, because we are always looking for new musicals. I just chanced upon [Ruthless!] … It fits perfectly our need of a smaller musical a year. It has a cast of eight and an orchestra of two pianos, a bass, and drums.”

Ruthless! made its Off-Broadway debut, directed by its lyricist and librettist Joel Paley, with musical direction by its composer Marvin Laird, on March 13, 1992 at the Players Theatre, where it played for 342 performances before closing on Jan. 24, 1993. The show won the 1993 New York Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical and the 1993 Drama Desk Award for Best Lyrics (Joel Paley).

When the curtain rises on Ruthless! A Musical, the Raleigh Little Theatre website writes:

“Eight-year-old Tina Denmark [Katie Regittko], the greatest song-and-dance sensation to ever hit the third grade, has her heart set on the title role in her school musical, Pippi (Longstocking) in Tahiti. When Louise Lerman [Samantha Rahn], a thoroughly untalented third grader wins the role, the ruthless Tina kills her — much to the dismay of her mother [Izzy Burger as Judy Denmark], a wimpy, dull, and untalented housewife/mother, and the approval of Sylvia St. Croix [Timothy Cherry], Tina’s equally ruthless sleazy agent who nurses her aspirations of stardom.

“This outrageous musical hit, a parody of The Bad Seed, Gypsy, All About Eve, Mame [1966 musical, 1974 film], and a host of other shows garnered rave reviews during its long Off-Broadway run.”

Besides the cast members named above, the Raleigh Little Theatre cast for Ruthless! The Musical includes Alison B. Lawrence as Judy Denmark’s adoptive mother Lita Encore, Burgandy Zikowitz as third-grade teacher and aspiring actress Miss Thorn, Ann Forsthoefel as lesbian investigative reporter Miss Block, and Sarah Winter as Broadway star Ginger DelMarco’s supremely efficient personal assistant Eve.

Director Haskell Fitz-Simons says, “Izzy Burger is doing an extraordinary job [of playing bland and boring Judy Denmark and her flamboyant and glamorous alter ego Ginger DelMarco]. Izzy plays two very different characters. Although they are aspects of the same person, it is a split personality.

“[Judy Denmark] has a psychotic break at the end of the first act and becomes another person,” says Fitz-Simons. “Beyond being just an extraordinarily fine actress, [Izzy Burger] has a firm grasp of this style [of musical comedy], which makes her perfect for the roles.”

He adds, Katie Regittko is an 11-year-old actress who’s playing Tina Denmark, our little Bad Seed. She is really wonderful in the role. She’s got the vocal chops for it, and she taps and does jazz and ballet and even some interpretive stuff pretty well. She’s also got a firm grasp of the style, because she’s earning at the feet of masters on this one.

Haskell Fitz-Simons also raves about the performances of perennial Cinderella Ugly Stepsister Tim Cherry, who once again dons drag to play Tina’s cutthroat agent Sylvia St. Croix, and Alison Lawrence, who plays Lita Encore.

“Lita is Judy’s adoptive mother, and also a very influential theater critic,” explains Haskell Fitz-Simons. “Her one quirk is that she hates musicals.”

Fitz-Simons says, “Burgandy Zikowitz plays Tina Denmark’s third-grade drama teacher Miss Thorn. She is the writer/director of the school play that year, which is [a musical called] Pippi (Longstocking) in Tahiti. Tina would kill to play the lead in that show — literally as it turns out.

“Samantha Rahn plays Louise Lerman, who is Tina’s competition for the role of Pippi,” says Fitz-Simons, “and Ann Forsthoefel plays the New York gossip columnist Miss Block in the second act. She comes to interview the glamorous Miss Ginger DelMarco.

“Last, but certainly not least, is Sarah Winter who plays Eve, Miss DelMarco’s invaluable assistant, and has designs [a la All About Eve] on moving on up the food chain,” says Fitz-Simons.

In addition to director Haskell Fitz-Simons, who doubles as sound designer for the show, the Raleigh Little Theatre creative team for Ruthless! A Musical includes choreographer Missy Dapper, musical director Julie Florin, technical director and lighting designer Jim Zervas, set designer and properties manager Thomas Mauney, costume designer Vicki Olson, and stage manager Tim Locklear.

Ruthless! is set in the mid- to late 1950s, the Donna Reed and June Cleaver period,” notes director Haskell Fitz-Simons. “The first act takes place in the home of Judy Denmark in Everytown America (they’re not specific about that). The second act takes place in [Judy’s alter ego] Ginger DelMarco’s luxurious penthouse apartment in New York City.”

Fitz-Simons says, “The set is not a realistic set by any means. There are very brightly colored blocks of color, but there are not any solid walls.

“The first act set recreates the perfect suburban home of Judy Denmark,” says Fitz-Simons, “and the second act recreates the lavish 1950s penthouse apartment of Ginger DelMarco, with lots of gold leaf, chiffon drapes, and chrome — again without solid walls.”

He adds, “The lights are sort of a musical-comedy take on film-noir lighting, with lots of high angles and shadows; and the costumes are too much fun. This is one of [costume designer[ Vicki [Olson]’s favorite periods. Judy and Tina Denmark sometimes dress alike in their crinolines and so forth. But when Judy becomes Ginger, Vicki has designed some stunningly glamorous designer gowns for her.”

RLT director Haskell Fitz-Simons invites Triangle theatergoers to discover the delights of Ruthless! “Come to have a really, really good time,” he says. “But listen closely, because there’s a lot of really funny lines” that will be lost in tsunamis of laughter.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL at 8 p.m. Aug. 12 and 13, 3 p.m. Aug. 14, 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+), except all tickets $12 on Aug. 14th.

BOX OFFICE: 919/821-3111 or http://www.etix.com/. SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/11-12/ruthless.html.

SERIES: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/suttonseries1112.html.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/.

DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html.

PARKING: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/parking.html.

NOTE 1: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 3 p.m. Aug. 14th performance.

NOTE 2: 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 preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).