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STC Pollock Stage “Ruthless!-The Musical” Ruthlessly Funny!

It takes more than talent to become a star dear.

Ah, the child actor. So much competition, so much drive, so many stage mothers and many others, as we shall see, pushing. Oh, and then having to survive the bad reviews.

But when a child actor makes it big, there is lots of money and other perks to go around. They say for a child actor to succeed, they and everyone supporting them need to be ruthless. But ruthless to the point of killing a rival? For the lead role in the third-grade play?

The center of attention in “Ruthless! The Musical” which is just ending its first week of sold-out and nearly sold-out shows at the Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock Stage is Tina Denmark. Right behind Tina is Sylvia St. Croix, child talent representative, who is going to see that Tina makes it no matter the obstacles. Not so sure is Judy Denmark Tina’s mother, a self-described talentless housewife with a husband constantly on the road for business. No problem for Tina’s grandmother, a theater critic with a nasty reputation. The other characters are the aforementioned obstacles in the way of Tina’s rise to stardom, a trajectory from starring in the third-grade play to starring on Broadway.

The book and lyrics by Joel Paley are ruthlessly funny. Marvin Laird’s music successfully taps into several well-known Broadway musical motifs. This is a show that evokes the famous stage moms and their songs from Broadway and film to evil child horror film such as “The Bad Seed.” If ever a show fits with STC’s theme this year of “A Season of Mystery, Music & Mayhem,” this is it, where all three abound.

First billing in the cast goes to Michael RJ Campbell for the role of Sylvia St. Croix. Campbell is well known around Sacramento for the many roles he has appeared in, especially at STC, most recently in “A Christmas Carol.” Closer to “Ruthless!” would be last year’s role as Jitter in “Musical of Musicals:The Musical” or Campbell’s several appearances over the years as Goneril, one of the ugly stepsisters in “Cinderella.”

Michael RJ Campbell as Sylvia St. Croix

The role of Sylvia St. Croix, according to lore, was not originally conceived to be a male actor’s role, but actor Joel Vig’s audition for the original 1992 off-Broadway show was the best, and it has now become a tradition.

Campbell’s performance far transcends the mere humor of a woman being played by a man dressed up as woman. He truly captures the essence of who Sylvia St.Croix is as a character and uproariously displays her humor, while doing a nice job of belting out her songs.

Lauren Metzinger as Tina Denmark, Michael RJ Campbell as Sylvia St. Croix

Mom, Judy Denmark, is played by Andrea St. Clair in her Sacramento Theatre Company debut. St. Clair’s performance is a hoot as her character morphs from the often clueless and easily outmaneuvered Judy to the ruthless, demanding Ginger.

Andrea St. Clair as Judy Denmark, with Becky Saunders as Lita Encore

Lauren Metzinger and

Jillie Kate Randle alternate playing Tina. Metzinger is in her third year in the STC Young Professionals Conservatory. She appeared on the STC Mainstage in last season’s production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” as well as many Music Circus shows. Randle, now an 11-year-old sixth grader, started out with El Dorado Musical Theater at age 7.

Metzinger played Tina in the show being reviewed. She performed with the same aplomb as her much more experienced fellow actors. She also seemed to have a little wink and nod to knowing what Tina faced, being a young actor herself.

Lauren Metzinger as Tina Denmark

Becky Saunders was most recently seen at STC in the Pollock as the widow Lili Harrison in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.” She stretches her acting muscles as three different very funny characters: Miss Thorn, the somewhat deranged elementary school drama teacher; Lita Encore, the heartless critic and adoptive mother and grandmother; and Emily Block, the journalist for an avant garde theatrical magazine with more than just lesbian tendencies.

Becky Saunders as third grade drama teacher Myrna Thorn

Netty Carey, another young actor with a growing performance résumé plays Tina’s archrival, Louise Lerman, and Eve, as in “All About,” Ginger’s backstabbing personal assistant.

Netty Carey as Myrna Thorn and her moment to shine as Pippi

Producing director Michael Laun’s direction is big, bold and brassy, as this production deserves. As a self-described musical fan, Laun’s affection for the show is obvious.

Graham Sobelman, of Graham-A-Rama fame, is the musical director working with frequent collaborator, pianist Erik Daniels, who gives his usual excellent performance, here while hidden in the scenery.

With this range of women’s costumes, many outrageous, veteran STC costumer Jessica Minnihan has lots of fun creating outfits that help create the humor of these characters.

Netty Carey as Louise Lerman as Pippi, Lauren Metzinger as Tina Denmark as Poofy the Dog

A big shoutout to the wigs created by Nila Coats. They are as much a part of the characters as their stories.

Becky Saunders as Muyrna Thorn and Andrea St. Clair as Judy Denmark in wigs by Nila Coats

Jarrod Bodernsteiner has created another set design (actually two sets here) for the Pollock Stage that most of us would be happy to live in. You want Texas suburban ranch house chic or New York City penthouse modern? That is what you get with “Ruthless!”

Lauren Metzinger as Tina Denmark dances up a storm on the Texas ranch house chic furnature with Andrea St. Clair as mom Judy

The show is nicely lit with lighting design by Ron Madonia, who has already been described as a “Northern California star lighting designer” this week.

“Ruthless! The Musical” is proving to be highly popular, and it is not surprising. Everything here, especially a great cast with a well-written play with lots of humor, have created a production that is ruthlessly funny.

“Ruthless! -The Musical” Sacramento Theatre Company
Through February 19, 2012
More info and tickets


Editor’s Note:  Corrections have been made to this article after publication.

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