I really enjoy seeing a show during it’s preview period. For one, it’s much cheaper and I’ll do anything to save a bit of money on theatre tickets. And secondly, there are very few reviews to taint my initial experience. Ruthless! The Musical made its West End debut and opened at the Arts Theatre this week, and a few theatre influencers were invited to see it on Friday prior to the opening, and I’m a little lost for words on how to describe the show.
Whilst you couldn’t describe it as having an all-star cast, there are definitely some big guns in the show. Jason Gardiner aka Mr Mean on Dancing On Ice plays the manager, and Tracie Bennett – a two-time Olivier winner – stars as the no-nonsense critic. There is also a West End debut, and four fresh-faced, slightly terrifying young girls alternating the role of Judy. Tina Denmark is an 8 year old girl who, with the help of her new manager, will do anything (and I mean anything) to play the lead role in her school production.
The reason I am so lost for words when it comes to reviewing Ruthless! The Musical is because I genuinely don’t know how I feel about the show. When I was watching it, I enjoyed it. I laughed a lot, but I almost feel like I was laughing because I was uncomfortable. Without giving anything away, there are elements that are unnecessary, and I feel like they shouldn’t be acted out by a 12 year old girl. I mainly the f-bomb being dropped a couple of times by a pre-teen is a little much. Seriously, don’t let the cute yet slightly terrifying child on the promotional material fool you; this show is not one for all the family! But at the same time, the shock factor wouldn’t be there if the role was played by an adult. All in all, this show is certifiably nuts.
The plot idea is interesting, with a look in at the behind the scenes action of youth theatre. The cut-throat performers alongside their pushy families are obviously a play on the real deal, but sometimes you wonder if those people are out there. But very little comes of it. The jokes require a little too much knowledge of 50s and 60s theatre for the average theatre goer to appreciate, and the physical comedy is minimal. The campness of the production is also a little difficult to swallow if you’re not expecting it in the first place.
Ruthless! The Musical has been a cult classic on the New York off-Broadway scene for quite a number of years, with its most recent revival just two years ago getting high praise. In fact, the likes of Britney Spears and Natalie Portman have played the young engenue in the past. It’s a part that has launched careers, but I can also see it causing the current cast’s job offers to diminish.
I’m finding it really hard to think of anybody to recommend the show to. I really enjoyed it, but no way would I pay to see it again. And no way would I be able to say it beats out any of the other shows on the London stage right now to buy tickets for this over those. It’s just a bizarre show, that I could honestly see closing before the run is up in June. They definitely chose the right theatre, because I also can’t see it selling out in the West End’s smallest theatre (my second ever trip here, after The Toxic Avenger in November). Sorry Ruthless, you just weren’t my cup of tea.