I missed Ruthless on its first, and highly successful, time round in Brisbane last year, when it won the Perform/4MBS Award for Best Musical. I’m glad I didn’t miss it this time, because Mixed Company’s Director Simone de Haas has once again given Brisbanites a great night’s entertainment. This clever show is a mad mix of old fashioned melodrama (piano accompaniment and all) and cynical post-modern reflexion of all the clichés of musical comedies past and present, with a special focus on the cut-throat world of child stars and wannabes, and a side-swipe or two at theatre critics and the media.
The performance was punctuated by the applause of the packed house showing its appreciation of the array of talent displayed by a top-line cast who, to a woman (and Paul Dellit, in stunning drag), had the voices to carry off the musical demands of songs that were more narrative than memorable, but very right for the night. Each of the excellent ensemble cast had several well-deserved moments in the sun. Charlie Koranias played flinty-eyed child actress, Tina Denmark, as Shirley Temple out of Bad Seed. Alida Rae gave Tina’s teacher and wannabe actress, Myrna Thorn, a darkly comic bitterness, and Sarah Watson made the most of the thankless position as her hapless rival.
Gillian Simpson’s stirring rendition of one of the most cynical songs, ‘I hate musicals’, was a highlight of the show, while Janet Devlin blossomed in the role of the maid rampant. Dellit was delicious in his reprisal of Sylvia St Croix, whose flamboyant style was Auntie Mame with acid drops of Sunset Boulevard’s ageing Norma Desmond.
But perhaps the most remarkable performance was that of Leisa Barry-Smith, also from the original cast, and who gets to play a Stepford wife in reverse. Her unravelling robotic housewife is a masterpiece, and she does this on a set that also deserves a special mention, with its dramatic transformation from virulently cheerful Sears Roebuck kitsch to slick New York chic.
And every other element of this production matched the performances on stage. The orchestra, and the pianist, were stars in their own right, and careful attention was paid to getting the rich assortment of costumes, the accessories and the hair styles just right.
The Cement Box is small enough for even those in the back row to get a good view of the actors, provided that they don’t sit or crouch down at the front of the stage.
Altogether, this is yet another show that shows that Brisbane is flush with talent that we should be supporting to save them from becoming yet another statistic, or just leaving us for greener fields. And Ruthless gives not only those of us who love musicals, but those of us who don’t, a very satisfying theatrical bang for our buck.