There is a German word, schadenfreude, which loosely means deriving joy from another's misfortune. "Ruthless! The Musical" is a train wreck of bad behavior, but if you're the kind of person who likes to slow down to see the crash, "Ruthless!" is a nonstop laugh riot. Friday's opening night crowd laughed so loudly and frequently that I suggest seeing the show twice to catch all the jokes.
"Ruthless!" is not your typical Maui show; it packs an edgy, irreverent punch one usually has to travel to the Mainland to find. The Maui cast could easily fill seats and run for months in a community like San Francisco or Los Angeles. The farcical romp is the creation of Joal Paley and Marvin Laird, who seem inspired not only by camp classics like "All About Eve" and "Gypsy, " but also "The Carol Burnett Show" and Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows."
The script is a perfect parody, but you don't need to be a musical theater expert to find it hysterical. Lina Aiko Krueger's character, Judy Denmark, opens the show with "Tina's Mother", establishing herself as a June Cleever/ Donna Reed, 1950s housewife. Krueger's expressions are just as funny as the lines and lyrics, and a favorite of mine was a little laugh that implied no, when asked if she knew what her husband did for a living.
Lina Aiko Krueger (from left), Dale Button and Heidi Turner go camping in “Ruthless! The Musical.”
It is quickly apparent that Judy's life revolves around her perfect child, Tina Denmark, played by Heidi Turner, making her professional stage debut. Judy is visited by an agent, Sylvia St. Croix, played in drag by the versatile Dale Button. Button is perfectly cast and his character is really the heroine of the story in an upside-down way. Button's portrayal of St. Croix is masterful, straight out of a Joan Crawford or Betty Davis movie, but he is perhaps a bit too recognizable to forget it's Dale Button in drag.
The plot of "Ruthless!" is so extensive and soap operalike, it is nearly impossible to cover it all in one column. In addition, it has a topsy-turvy style reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan. St. Croix sees talent in Tina and wishes to represent her. Coincidentally, Tina is to audition for her school play that same day. Allison Mikes plays Louise Lehman, Tina's competition. Mikes is simply awesome channeling her inner 8-year-old. Her mannerisms as Louise produce some of the biggest laughs of the night. Kristi Scott as Myrna Thorn, bitter failed theatrical artist now stuck teaching kids, is extremely funny as well. There is only one actor who gets applause upon taking the stage on Maui and that's Rose Roselinsky as theater critic and grandmother of Tina, Lita Encore. Roselensky has her own show-stealing moment guzzling from a carafe of scotch, behind the backs of Judy and Sylvia. Roselensky nails her solo, "I Hate Musicals," perhaps the song she was born to sing, in yet another highlight of the show.
Turner as Tina has the very unenviable task of holding her own with the incredibly seasoned cast. There's a story from the "The Wizard of Oz": Director Victor Fleming yelled "Cut!" at one point and screamed at the boys, "Will you three hams knock it off and let that little girl in there!" Turner has a long way to go as an actress, but her performance is very admirable and charming. Six months with director Aly Cardinalli and the seasoned cast of "Ruthless!" will provide great training, placing her well ahead of most young talent.
Tina is reduced to being the understudy in the school play, "Pippi in Tahiti," but bumps off Louise, landing the lead just in time for opening night. When Judy discovers her daughter's crime, she turns her in and Tina is sent the Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingnues. An additional twist is added as Judy discovers she is not the child of critic Lita Encore, but is the abandoned daughter of former stage diva, Ruth Del Marco. Judy decides she has talent in her blood and sets out to become a star as the first act closes with "Angel Mom."
In the even wilder second act, Judy is now a Tony award- winning diva with a dotting personal assistant, Eve, played by Allison Mikes. Kristi Scott also doubles in the second act as a comical lesbian entertainment reporter, Miss Block. Both Mikes and Scott again deliver lots of laughs as cartoonlike stereotypes. Perhaps a dozen more complex plot twists ensue, each more ridiculous and shocking than the last. By mid-second act the production becomes a tsunami of howling laughter with more upstaging, fourth-wall conversations, and my personal favorite; conversations with the band: "Unplug that keyboard and get a real clarinet!"
There was a moment in the second act as I watched Lina Krueger perform that I felt as if I was watching a great episode of "The Carol Burnett Show." Then I got to thinking, Carol Burnett used to live just down the road. Krueger's performance was so perfect, and so impressive that I'm pretty sure Carol Burnett would have been laughing just as hard as the rest of us.
Producer Jonathan Lehman and director Aly Cardinalli have given Maui theatergoers something new, something metropolitan. "Ruthless!" might be a bit too wacky and wild for some, but it is insanely funny, original and polished. My guess is by January the cast will be so connected, that they could easily take the show on the road or extend if Maui embraces this hip musical comedy for adults.
* "Ruthless! The Musical" by Joal Paley and Marvin Laird continues tonight through Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse in Azeka Shopping Center in Kihei. Performances are 7:30 tonight through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Reserved seats for adults are $25, students 18 and younger are $20. After a holiday hiatus "Ruthless!" returns Jan. 6 to 15 at the same times. Ask about the ProArts $20 Kama'aina Nights with valid Hawaii ID. For reservations or more information, call 463-6550 or visit proartspacific.com. "Ruthless! The Musical" contains mild adult content.
Also this week
Christ the King Youth Ministry presents "Once An Angel," an original Christmas play written by Faye Couch Reeves. Tara Ann Pacubas plays Gracie Brown who pleads for angelic help to her save an old beloved church from closing down. Gracie questions if God really cares. Does he really listen to our prayers? The arrival of a loopy Christmas pageant director played by Paris Sensano, and a reluctant teenage Christmas pageant cast test Gracie's teetering faith even more.
* "Once An Angel" premieres at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and repeats at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $10; children 5 and younger are free. For reservations or more information, call Christ the King Church at 877-6098.
Kumu Kahua Theatre presents "A Jivebomber's Christmas," Jan. 20 and 21 at McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. "A Jivebomber's Christmas" is set in a World War II relocation camp for Japanese Americans. Despite its grim setting, the upbeat plot follows a group of young internees as they rehearse a Christmas variety show being held to keep their spirits up amidst the camp's destitution. Written by Saachiko and Dom Magwili, the play was first produced in 1993 at Los Angeles's Japanese American National Museum, where it has become an annual holiday tradition. "A Jivebomber's Christmas" is filled with traditional Christmas carols, popular music from the 1940s, dance, humor and sentiment. It is a warm, nostalgic, lighthearted play. The Friday and Saturday night performances are at 7:30 p.m.; general admission tickets are $22 (plus applicable fees).
* To purchase, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org
Steve-O of "Jackass" fame is coming to Maui and will perform an evening of stand-up comedy and daring stunts with his "Too Much Information Tour." Local comics Ed Ka'ahea and Chino LaForge join Steve-O in what is sure to be a memorable event Saturday, Jan. 21, at Ocean's Beach Bar and Grill in Kihei.
* The show is at 8 p.m. and tickets are $35. Advance purchase is required; tickets are available at hightidecon certs.net or at Ocean's Beach Bar and Grill in Kihei, Westside Vibes in Lahaina and Bounty Music in Kahului.