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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Ruthless! at Arts West

Also see David's review of Damn Yankees

Ruthless!
Corinne Bloor as Tina Denmark and Mark "Mom" Finley as Sylvia St. Croix
If you took the scripts and scores of The Bad Seed, All About Eve and Gypsy and threw them into a blender, the result would basically be Ruthless!, the mega-campy Off-Broadway musical currently in production at Arts West in West Seattle. The cozy playhouse is not the ideal habitat for a musical, with its three-sided seating formation and iffy acoustics, and director Mary Beth Dagg's cast varies in vocal experience and understanding how to put across all the in-jokes and cross-references. Still, Joel Paley's brightly biting book and lyrics and Marvin Laird's amazing pastiche-laden score come through, largely due to two dead-on performances.

Long a fixture in Seattle's drag performance scene, Mark Finley is part Roz Russell, part Joan Crawford and outrageously funny as theatrical agent from hell (with a dark secret) Sylvia St. Croix. Finley knows his Hollywood and Broadway lore and largely carries the show, as well as wearing the funniest of Heather Shannon Moore's witty fifties-era costumes. Jean Mishler gives a strong acting performance as Judy Denmark, the overwrought, Donna Reedish mother who begins to realize her stage struck tot Tina is a bit on the homicidal side when she knocks off a child she is understudying. And Mishler is even better when Judy becomes stage crazed herself and changes her name to Ginger (act one is largely based on Bad Seed while act two is All About Eve, with Gypsy references scattered throughout). Corinne Bloor drips comic saccharine and malice as Tina, and if neither actress has enough vocal oomph, they still acquit themselves handily in their characterizations.

Susan McIntyre would steal the show (if Finley allowed it) in dual roles as ill-fated child star Louise Lerman and with great comic zeal as Eve, Ginger's star wannabe secretary. Shawna Wilson is also very amusing, first as Tina's schoolmistress Miss Thorn and later as butch scandal rag writer Emily. The least successful turn of the show is Ada McAllister's as Lita Encore, Judy Denmark's adoptive mother, a vitriolic theatre critic; though her characterization is fair, McAllister lacks that Mermanesque belter voice that could make her solo "I Hate Musicals" a showstopper. It would be wrong not to acknowledge show pianist Jim Fisher, who in addition to playing the tricky score quite well, also has some great comic reactions to the onstage madness.

Scenic design by Dana Perreault is functional if cumbersome, and Jon Harmon's lighting design occasionally supplies some fun touches. Sound designer Allan D. Loucke's decision to use a rock star type body mike for Tina was not only out of period, but made one wish that the whole cast had been body miked, as many lyrics were lost or muddied, especially when actors played to the house right or left seating areas. But if it's fun you're after in the theatre, and you're up on your old movies and musicals, then Ruthless! is still a good bet for campy fun, especially when Finley takes the reins.

Ruthless! runs through May 17 at Arts West, 4711 California Avenue SW in West Seattle. For reservations call (206) 938-0339 or visit their website at www.artswest.org.


Photo: Paul Raney/Raney Images




- David-Edward Hughes



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