Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Margin Notes: Ruthless!

Kim Maresca, Peter Land, and Rita McKenzie
as Judy Denmark, Sylvia St. Croix, and Lita Encore.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Seen on: Monday, 7/6/15.
My grade: B. Good campy fun.

Plot and Background
Tina Denmark, at only eight years old, is the biggest star her town has seen - or so she thinks. When Louise Lerman is cast as the lead in the school play over Tina, bloody intents are revealed, as well as shocking (!) backstories. Is Judy, Tina's housewife mother, quite as talentless as she believes? And what is Sylvia St. Croix's scheme when she invites herself into their home? Bookwriter and lyricist Joel Paley directed the award-winning original production of this campy take on the already-campy The Bad Seed in 1992, and returns to direct this production as well, which is touting itself not as a revival but a re-imagining - the show is streamlined and updated.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew the musical took at least some of its inspiration from the cult classic melodrama The Bad Seed, which I'd seen in my youth on one of my TCM kicks. And that this version had to do with show business.


Play: The show starts off strongly, with Kim Maresca knocking "Tina's Mother," a paean to her supporting role in her daughter's budding showbiz career, out of the park, followed quickly by the prancing Annie-on-crack herself. The script is riddled with musical theater references galore (like a "Hidden in This Picture" for nerds), including a Sweeney Todd factory whistle and nearly every line from Gypsy. It's a relatively fun journey, as camp as you can get (the climax is a murderous showdown where all the guns are pointed fingers), and the songs are (with the exception of "I Hate Musicals!" which outstays its welcome) generally fun and keep things moving. At some point, however, the camp isn't enough to sustain the story or the audience's energy - at only 95 minutes it feels overlong. Still, it ends charmingly enough, and shows off its cast to good effect.

Cast: Although I was told by a friend that the success of this show hinges on the little girl playing Tina (a strong-voiced Tori Murray), it is Kim Maresca's performance as her mother Judy that steals the show here. Her comic timing is impeccable, her voice is lovely and full, and she embodies the smilingly bland housewife just as easily as the snarling Broadway diva. If the entire ensemble were at her level of comedy, the show would be a delightful souffle. The rest the cast is, unfortunately, uneven. Peter Land, as Sylvia St. Croix, has a good voice, but seems to be crutching entirely on the fact that it's funny to hear a deep voice come out of a person in a wig and a dress - he's not adding much beyond the fact of drag. Rita McKenzie as Lita Encore and Andrea McCullough as Miss Thorn both feel a little misguided, and not nearly funny enough. Tracy Jai Edwards, though, makes a strong showing as both Louise Lerman and later Judy's Eve Baxter stand-in, Eve Allabout.

Design: Nina Vartanian's costumes are a loving callback to 50s charm, all crinoline and pearls, with a bit of drag glam thrown in. Josh Iacovelli's sets are deliberately flat-painted flats, the portrait art the same depth as the wallpaper, which help contribute to the sense of a collection of dolls posing in a lovely oversized dollhouse. If I had any complaint about the design, it would be with the sound - in general everyone was just a little too loud for my comfort.


Running: Now playing at St. Luke's Theatre - Opening: July 13, 2015.
Category: musical
Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Book & Lyrics: Joel Paley
Music: Marvin Laird
Director: Joel Paley
Designers: Josh Iacovelli (Set & Lighting), Nina Vartanian (Costume), John Grosso (Sound).
Cast: Peter Land, Kim Maresca, Rita McKenzie, Andrea McCullough, Tracy Jai Edwards, Tori Murray, Paul Pecorino, Amie Bermowitz.

Peter Land, Tori Murray, and Kim Maresca as Sylvia St. Croix, Tina Denmark,
and Judy Denmark. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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