Acting Up

Little Tina Denmark is a very bad seed. The blond, blue-eyed pipsqueak, who stands center stage in Marvin Laird and Joel Paley's Ruthless, will let nothing block her path to showbiz stardom. At eight years old, she's already willing to kill, literally, for the lead in her school play. Indeed, in Masquerade Theatre's production of this wonderfully silly musical farce, Tina (Katharine Randolph) is one tight little pistol of explosive energy; no one better stand in her way.

Naturally, she has a loopy cast of characters to contend with before she can grab hold of the brass ring. First off, there's her Sybil-like mother, Judy Denmark (Deanna Julian). Julian's Judy, whose lovely voice is suited perfectly to the role, begins this romp as a picture-perfect mom. She'd rather see her daughter in the Brownies than in the theater. Dressed in Stephanie Bradow's cartoon-wild costumes, Judy serves cold turkey and warm cookies while done up in flouncy skirts and sweetly tied aprons, her curled hair tied back with a slender ribbon. By Act II, however, the pretty Judy Denmark has discovered the actress within, and we meet her two years later, prattling on about her New York penthouse apartment while dressed to the nines in a sequined gown. She's a famous Broadway star, as ruthless as her daughter ever was. The almond-eyed Julian struts and vamps even better than she serves cookies.

As good as Julian and Randolph are, both are upstaged every time Allison Sumrall, as the bizarre Myra Thorn, stomps on stage. The hysterical Sumrall plays a third-grade teacher from hell, every parent's worst nightmare. The deserving Tina doesn't land the lead role because Thorn, a serious actress wanna-be herself, can't let the child upstage her. Instead, she casts the dumpy Louise Lerman (Melissa Moores), who wears taped-up granny glasses as she swings her rhythmless arms to the beat of some inner drummer. Sumrall's Thorn screams maniacally at the pathetically untalented Louise, sending the audience into waves of laughter. It's too bad that she disappears by the second act, as she really is the best part of this strangely compelling production.



Masquerade Theatre, 1537 North Shepherd

Through Saturday, September 1; 713-861-7045

When Tina doesn't get her part, everything, including her yellow and red polka-dot living room, is turned upside down as she schemes her way to stardom.

The singing is strong, even if the tunes are unbelievably silly. The dancing is thankfully kept to a minimum, and despite some awkward direction by Gary Lyons -- actors are often trapped behind couches and chairs -- this charming cast makes the absolute most of the wicked and funny score.


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