Theater Review: RUTHLESS! (New Conservatory Theater)

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by Chuck Louden on December 14, 2023

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Just in time for some holiday fun, New Conservatory Theater presents the 1992 Off-Broadway smash hit Ruthless. With Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley and Music by Marvin Laird, it’s a dark comedy about a 1950s bored housewife living in the suburbs with her talented singing and dancing spoiled brat and sociopathic daughter Tina.

Fans of Mommie Dearest, All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard and musicals from the 1950s will recognize these familiar characters. Mom “Judy” (Mary Kalita) could be played by Doris Day. She’s squeaky clean and maintains a spotless home. Her life is routine and dull. She lives vicariously through her wanna- be star daughter, Tina. At eight years old, this wannabe “Shirley Temple ” has it all: dimples, polka dot dresses, blond braids and a high pitched squeal of a voice.

Enter Sylvia St Croix, a combination Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. Sylvia is well past her prime and wants to stay in the limelight. She sees the young and talented Tina as a means to somehow stage a comeback. J. Conrad Frank (better known as famous alter ego drag persona Katya Smironoff-Skyy) shines as the over the top and overbearing manager. With her statuesque frame, bright sequined outfits and flaming red hair, Skyy steals every scene she’s in.

As Tina, adult Melissa Momboisse channels the original Bad Seed; this brat who actually has talent is willing to do anything to get ahead. Tantrums, screaming and possibly MURDER notwithstanding. Hayley Lovgren as Miss Thorn the frustrated teacher and play director get’s the majority of the laughs; she plays Miss Thorn as a deranged Kathy Bates-like character simmering with rage, ready to explode at any moment. Jacqueline De Muro as Lita and Lucca Troutman round out the cast in fun supporting roles as a film critic and hapless assistant respectively.

A murder happens and all things change for our lead characters. Secret identities and ambitions are revealed, all leading to a murderous but hilarious conclusion.

Director Dyan McBride must have told all her actors to ham it up and mug shamelessly. All the actors have their moments to shine and chew the scenery. Wes Crane’s costumes and Deon Christopher Glass’s wigs are colorful and fantastic. Kudos also to Matt Owen’s fantastic colorful and detail oriented sets.  They’re breathless and create a perfect backdrop for both acts of the show.

A fantastic ensemble of actors, cleverly written lyrics, singing — aided by musical director and Bay Area favorite Joe Wicht) — and dancing (Staci Arriaga, choreography) gives the audience a full night of fun entertainment, perfect for the holiday or anytime of year. Don’t miss Ruthless!

photos by Lois Tema

New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco
ends on January 7, 2024
for tickets, call 415.861.8972 or visit NCTC

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