Ruthless! The Musical premiered off-Broadway 25 years ago as a parody of musicals like Gypsy and Mame, and was revived in 2015 before transferring to the West End this month. The thing with parodies though, is that they often still are what they ridicule. In this case: a very over-the-top musical, full of clichés and without much depth.
The cast cannot be blamed for the rather empty extravaganza, for they are all phenomenal, especially in their singing. Kim Maresca has made the transfer with the show from the US, and her West End debut is faultless. Anya Evans makes a great young Tina, who will literally kill for a place in the spotlight, and Tracie Bennett as Lita Encore gives a great performance of the funniest song of the night (‘I Hate Musicals’) in which she complains about the ever-ongoing choruses in musical songs, by singing – you guessed it – ever-ongoing choruses. Jason Gardiner, you might know him as a judge from Dancing on Ice, is the only male member of the cast, though he plays the part of talent agent Sylvia St Croix in drag. Almost all the acting is, like almost every other aspect of the show, a little much, but that is probably a stylistic choice.
The main issue with the show, however, is that the plot is just one big rollercoaster that goes all over the place, and just when you think it can’t get any more ridiculous, it does – but not in a funny, Book of Mormon-kind of way, but in a way that makes you give up any attempt to suspend your disbelief. Therefore, the show never really captivates, and even though the plot is unpredictable, the performance itself stays quite bland, and fails to ever surprise.
Nevertheless, there were quite a few funny moments, and the young girls as well as the elderly couples – both present in abundance – are often heard laughing, whether it is because of references to other musical shows or clever plays on words. It is definitely a show that caters to a wide audience, and this is visible in the foyer.
If you are not a very big musical fan, it’s probably best to avoid this one. Spoofing as it may be, in the end this show is still everything it ridicules, and if you don’t enjoy the stereotypical musical-musical, this might just prove a long evening. Props to the entire cast for their immaculate performances though – so if you just want to see some excellent craftsmanship and enjoy a light-hearted, non-realistic story, then let nothing hold you back.
Images: Alistair Muir
Merel van ‘t Hooft