Jennifer Poliskie & Michael Drury in Ruthless! the Musical. Photo: MBPruitt Photography

Ruthless! The Musical

Book and lyrics by Joel Haley
Music by Marvin Laird
Directed by Jason Cooper

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

What happens when a talented little girl goes out for the school play and does not get the starring role she rightly deserves? A whole bunch of murder and secrets, that’s what! Throw in some camp and crinoline and you have Ruthless! The Musical, Chicken Coop Theater’s hilarious show at Art Sanctuary. 

Borrowing heavily from cult classics like The Bad Seed, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and every other Joan Crawford and Bette Davis film, this musical lampoon about child stars and stage mothers resonates in this time of nepo-babies and Kardashians. The show instantly sucks you in with its bright pink set and gaudy decorations including the portrait of a toothy, grinning blonde child gazing down center stage. The costume design is wonderful with each frill channeling 1950s housewives stuck at home and wigs that reach towards the rafters.

 With an all-female cast of characters, this show celebrates and pokes fun at the relationships, bonds, and competition between women from every twisted angle. The cast tear away at the comedic bits littered throughout this play with ease and do not let up until the chaotic ending. Jennifer Poliskie opens the show with her always-lovely soprano as the steadfast mother, Judy Denmark. Using large gestures and facial expressions to match, Poliskie breaks the suburban charm with a darker side with each huff she takes into her furniture cleaner. Without giving too much away, Poliskie gets to shine as a Broadway starlet later in the show with enough confidence to give Gypsy Rose Lee a run for her money. 

And speaking of Gypsy, Michael Drury channels Mama Rose in every manifestation as Sylvia St. Croix. With a martini glass ever present in hand, Drury brings grandiosity and headstrong will power as he sings about finding the next child star of the stage. And playing the young starlet thirsty for fame is a local celebrity drag queen, May O’Nays. Milking her towering entrance as the third grader, May O’Nays brings a well-rounded performance as young Tina, complete with plenty of physical humor and sight gags. 

She faces worthy opponents as well. Zoe Pretipin is snarky and sarcastic as Louise. As she basks in the spotlight that Tina craves. Pretipin and May O’Nays deliver a well-crafted comedy dynamic, reminiscent of all child actors competing for parts. Additionally, I would be amiss if I did not mention that the presence of a student actor in the vicinity of a drag performer within this piece did not seem harmful or dangerous at all. In fact, the choice to cast a performer to play a younger part against an actor closer to the age of her character made for bolder comedic choices, creating a stronger satire in the end. 

So do yourself a favor and go see this bawdy little musical. Whether you want to see a silly musical or a send up to some of the greatest female performers, Ruthless! The Musical will leave you entertained. It’s the perfect amount of silly for a night of theater. 

Featuring Kristy Calman, Michael Drury, Mandy Kramer,  May O’Nays, Jennifer Poliskie, Zoe Pretipin, & Celeste Vonderschmitt

Ruthless! The Musical

April 6 – 16, 2023

The Chicken Coop Theatre
Art Sanctuary
1433 South Shelby Street
Louisville, KY 40217

Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrites Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!