THEATER REVIEW: “Ruthless! The Musical” kicks off Coronado Playhouse’s 66th season

What would you be willing to do to get a starring role?

If you’re 8-going-on-18 dynamo Tina Denmark (Chase Anichini), the answer is anything, anything at all, to play the lead in the school play – “Pippi (Longstocking) in Tahiti,” written and directed by Tina’s third-grade teacher Miss Thorn (Andrekka J. Lanier).

Hold onto your hat. It’s “Ruthless! The Musical,” and it’s getting a hoot of a production (thanks in part to Chrissy Burns’ sprightly direction) through March 3 at Coronado Playhouse.

Named best off-Broadway musical in 1992, “Ruthless! The Musical” skewers everything and everybody theatrical, and most especially musical comedy.

Tina’s quintessential ’50s mom is Judy (Kendra Leori Truett), who claims to have “no talent whatsoever.” She is proud of her daughter, but spends much of her time fielding phone calls for the kid. Wondering whether that’s a good thing, she mentions to Tina that “I’d like you to have a normal childhood.”

“I’ve had a normal childhood,” snaps Tina. “It’s time to move on.”

But when Miss Thorn gives the part to no-talent Louise Lerman (Jada Garland), daughter of Important People, it’s time for Plan B, encouraged by Tina’s wannabe agent Sylvia St. Croix (Danny Ingersoll, in a hoot of a performance).

A campy circumstance involving a jump rope oddly used at an unfortunate height clears the way for the pint-sized Lady Macbeth, and she gets the starring role.

Judy’s adoptive mother Lita Encore (Kat Fitzpatrick), a tart-tongued theater critic, pops in now and again to see how her granddaughter is doing. Lita’s hilarious song “I Hate Musicals” is a highlight of the show.

But the craziness isn’t over: in the second act we learn that nothing is quite what it seems. Judy morphs into Broadway actress Ginger DelMarco (I won’t even try to explain it, but Truett makes the switch wonderfully); Ginger’s assistant Eve (Sarah Alida LeClair) also has a secret, and “Modern Thespian” reporter Emily Block (Dawn Marie Zuniga-Williams) tries to suss out the truth about Ginger.

But don’t bother trying to keep up with the craziness; just relax and enjoy it – and the voluminous showbiz references to “The Bad Seed,” “All About Eve,” “Gypsy,” “Mame,” among others.

Anichini is both adorable and diabolical as the kid wonder Tina (and let’s face it, she really did deserve that part).

Kendra Leori Truett is terrific in the dual parts (and personalities) of housewife Judy and entertainer Ginger and can belt out a song with the best of them.

Alex John’s time-appropriate costumes add to the fun, as do Marvin Laird’s often clever songs, Joel Paley’s lyrics and script, and a talented cast that plays each over-the-top part to the hilt.

Kudos also to musical director/sound designer Rick Shaffer, who plays a mean piano and sets up the taped piano/bass/percussion accompaniment in the first act.

“Ruthless! The Musical” is the first show of the Playhouse’s 66th season, which is to feature four musicals (“Pageant,” “Carnival,” and “Suds” are to come), and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” will round out the program.

“Ruthless!” features lots of extremes – mugging, entrances and exits and situations. It also has a fine cast, some great songs, funny in-joke references and a lot of laughs. What’s not to like?

The details

“Ruthless! The Musical” plays through March 3 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 435-4856 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.