OGDEN — Weber State University’s latest production is the musical Ruthless!, a musical with a mostly female cast (with music by Marvin Laird and lyrics by Joel Paley). It was first performed Off Broadway in 1992, and had some recent revisions before a British revival in 2015, and even more adjustments before premiering here at Weber State. Directed by Andrew Lewis, the show is a delightful parody of comedy, murder, and some of the big musicals of the 1950s and 1960s.
The story of Ruthless! focuses on young Tina Denmark (played by Landry Thomas), who dreams of stardom and goes to great lengths to get it. Thomas had fantastic facial expressions, which were used to great amusement whenever the seemingly sweet and docile character suddenly flipped when she did not get her way to a truly creepy child.
As commented upon in the director’s note, the set (designed by Sam Transleau and DJ Pike) represents the “painstakingly perfected portrait in a slightly skewed frame” with exactness. The abstract and skewed shapes of the walls that shaped the stage housed a set of an idyllic home that merely hides the chaos of the lives within.
Another fantastic technical element was the lighting design by Daniel Garner and Marley Porter. When a show like Ruthless! has an abundance of quick mood changes and slight melodrama, the addition of well timed and planned lights truly add to the experience. The colors that Garder and Porter chose to accommodate characters’ change in persona or the plot twists were quite apropos and added to the ambiance extensively.
Costume design by Alicia Kondrick was phenomenal. She had great elements that fit with characterization and time period, but with added touches of color; coupled with the hair and make-up (that Kondrick also designed), the overall look for each character was flawless. The character of Judy Denmark (played by Katelyn Ostler), had such a fantastic second act look, with shoes and lipstick that perfectly matched the dress and the mood of her character shift that it was absolutely breathtaking.
One of the highlights of the evening was the live music, supplied by pianist and conductor Kenneth Plain paired with second pianist Steve Barlow and percussionist Don Keipp. Because I had seated myself on the side, general admission seating, I could see slightly backstage to the musicians, and I found myself glancing over frequently, watching these master pianists move their fingers in synchronicity. I marveled at the beauty added to the production with this live talent.
In the story, an acting agent, Sylvia St.Croix (played by Max Gilchrist), comes to guide mother Judy Denmark and young Tina to stardom. Gilchrist, Ostler, and Thomas work well together, and songs such as the act one finale “Angel Mom” were evidence of that strong chemistry. The opening number “Tina’s Mother” was a strong introduction to the sad humor of a stage mom getting her glory from her child, and Ostler performed that song well. Gilchrist was less consistent than his costars, as he had moments of weakness (in flubbed lines) mixed in with pleasing moments as he sang. Thomas continued to surprise with songs like “There’s More to Life,” which showed the audience that there was more to her than the constant façade she attempted to portray.
The introduction to a few other characters, such as Miss Thorn, a third-grade teacher who wishes she wasn’t (played by Carly Barlow); Tina’s competition in act one, Louise Lerman (played by McKenna Tedrick); and Judy’s assistant in act two, Eve Allabout (also played by Tedrick), added humor and interest to the story. I especially enjoyed grandmother and evil theatre critic Lita Encore (played by Cassidy Wixon). The song Wixon sings about hating musicals was very humorous, and Wixon handled a few wardrobe and hair mishaps with flair.
The twists in the story of Ruthless! varied from predictable to surprising. On the surface what seems to be a comedy actually may be a commentary on the desire for adoration and what people lose when they try too hard to get it. The underlying themes in this slightly twisted comedy are deeper than I expected, and I think that this production of Ruthless! is a deep view into human longing while also being a delightful parody.