Updated: Mar 8, 2019
★★★★½ - Delicious
What do you think of when you think killer comedy? When’s the last time you saw murder and thought it to be belly-laugh hilarious? In 1993, “Ruthless! The Musical” (book and lyrics by Joel Paley, music by Marvin Laird) was nominated for the Drama Desk Award and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical.
During tough times in this country, society has always turned to entertainment. We collectively look for something to take our minds off the troubles of the world, something to make us laugh.
Under the direction of Rob Kastil, that’s precisely what happens with the current production at Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT). He has assembled quite the talented cast and ensured the tongue is firmly planted in the cheek. This show is campy and outrageous, and it works.
Teah DeStefano is close to perfect in the title role of Tina Denmark. She can sing, dance, act, and displays impeccable timing. Adorable in all the right places. Then she blurts out “Fuck that!” and rather than elicit shock, she makes you roar with laughter. DeStefano misses a high note here or there, but Musical Director Susan Easter could’ve easily avoided that by taking those down and still retained the necessary punch.
The curtain opens as Tina’s mother, Judy (Evelyn Connors) begins the show in earnest with a delightful, Stepford Wives personification. It sets the tone for the play and Conners is spot on. Later on, when her true identity reveals itself, she blossoms. The voice blooms in a lovely soprano, she moves around the stage with the perfect over-confidence of an over-indulged star, and never loses sight of the comedic.
The epitome of the underpaid and under-appreciated school teacher, Miss Thorn, is brought to life by Joy Demain. No stranger to the stage, Demain takes command of the boards. She brings character to a role that could easily become nothing but caricature. She’s blowsy and funny while belting out her lost dreams of stardom in “Teaching Third Grade.”
Marissa McCoy takes the subtle route with her initial appearance on the stage. When she arrives in the second act as Eve Allabout/Louise Lerman she’s full-bodied in voice and movement. She’s sweetness and snarls from one moment to the next.
Then there’s Andee Gibbs as Lita Encore, the cut-throat and ruthless critic. Gibbs is fearless. Her performance is delectable and brings to mind Rosalind Russel with “I Hate Musicals.” Gibbs breaks loose and lets the role take over.
The character of Sylvia St. Croix was written for a woman but, even since the very first production in New York, has typically been played by a man. Even so, casting Cory Benway shows a stroke of genius. His flair for being able to take the character to the absolute limit without going overboard takes the entire production to another level. He moves with confidence and control yet is always in the moment. His renditions of “Talent” and “I Want the Girl” are wonderful to behold.
The eleven o’clock number, a song placed within the script in such a manner and level it should signal the peak of the conflict and get the audience revved is slightly underwhelming. Here, it’s the title number which doesn’t quite do the job it’s supposed to do.
The usual high production values expected with LVLT are at play here. Act One is a tidy, understated suburban home, then with an unexpectedly beautiful Act Two set by Ron Lindblom under Ginny Adams’ lighting, a New York skyline shines through a penthouse window. The costumes and wigs are gorgeous. Though, St. Croix could use fingernails to complete the look. Rommel Pacson’s choreography is basic, but well-staged.
Typical opening night issues, such as the pianists drowning out lyrics in some places, stepping on laughs, and a jerky, misbehaving spotlight, should iron themselves out.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through July 29
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff drive
Tickets: $20 - $25 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: Rob Kastil; Musical Director: Susan Easter; Choreographer: Rommel Pacson; Set Design: Ron Lindblom; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound Design: Mike Olsen; Costume Design: Rose Scarborough; Stage Manager: Eve Smith