As fate would allow, while celebrating a benefit cruise aboard the decadent Hornblower Hybrid, a private yacht engaged by Fran Drescher and her organization Cancer Schmancer, I, along with 300 others, was treated to a preview performance from the cast of “Ruthless.”
“Ruthless,” a new Off-Broadway musical comedy based on “The Bad Seed,” opens July 13 at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th St. in Manhattan).
Having just completed an interview with the play’s creators, composer Marvin Laird and writer Joel Paley, long-time partners in play and life, I was pleasantly surprised by the coincidence. As the lush boat circled Manhattan, I was able to briefly speak with nearly all of the members of the cast.
I was floored by the beautiful, talented and extremely professional 11-year-old lead, Tori Murray, who portrays Tina. I began speaking with her and was simply blown away by her maturity.
So you’re the lead in the cast of “Ruthless.” How long have you been doing theatre?
Actually, this is my first professional show.
Yeah. Before this, I was performing in school plays.
And you are 11 years old?
Is this a lot of fun for you as opposed to hard work?
I love performing. Ever since I was in fourth grade I’ve been performing in after-school shows and stuff.
Did you have singing lessons?
I’ve had a few. Whenever I think I need a touch up or something I’ll have a voice lesson. I’ve only had about 15 lessons in my life time.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have an older brother. He is 12. And a younger brother who is 8.
Do they sing as well?
This has to be a new experience for you. Well, you haven’t really started yet.
Actually, we had another run of the show about six months ago. In the beginning it’s always nerve wracking, but once you get on stage, it’s just so much fun.
Are you from New York?
No I am from New Jersey.
Before you get on stage are you nervous?
Yeah, especially opening night. There is just a lot going through your head. Once you get on stage, it’s like you’ve done it a million times.
Are you sure that you’re 11? You are so professional.
So do you want to make this your career?
I do. It’s always been my dream to be able to be a singer and an actress. I also love to read, so I want to be a teacher too. But I mean, this is one of the things I want to do.
What about all of your friends? Do you miss them when you’re working?
Of course. I haven’t been spending as much time with them, but we’re still really close.
Are they all going to come to support you?
Oh, yeah! They are! I’m really excited for that too.
What do you think about the story line of the show?
Well, Tina is very exciting to play. It’s going to be fun to be me once and a while, and I get to play someone mean without getting in trouble. It’s actually pretty fun. With the story, the play of the Bad Seed, it is just so much fun because it’s just so funny. I mean, the Bad Seed was a drama, but this is a comedy, and it’s so much fun.
Anything else you’d like to say for Get Out! magazine?
Well, the reason I got my agent was when I was singing at my grandmother’s funeral. I think that everything happens for a reason. She really liked me and was there by my side.
Tracy Jai Edwards
What character do you portray?
I play two characters. The first one is a little girl who is desperately trying to be the lead in the school play, but I’m not so talented. Maybe my mom and dad bought me the part a little bit. The second is from “All About Eve.” I am a huge star, and all I want to be is a huge star. Crazy, hilarity ensues. Everybody wants to be a star of the show. Everybody would kill to play the part.
Now you haven’t started?
Well, no. We start in front of audiences on Thursday, and we open on July 13. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I’ve been on Broadway, I’ve been off Broadway and all sorts of things. Then I went a whole different route, thinking that would bring me joy and happiness. Not very far along I realized that there was something missing in my life. I missed performing. Two days after I had this realization, the producer of the show, Evan Sacks, texted me. I woke up to a text saying, “Would you be interested in auditioning?” It was such a sign. So doing this show feels very divine. It’s bringing me back to New York, and I haven’t been here for nearly three years. I’m back, and it feels really good. It’s a gift to come back, into my heart with this show.
Rita, what role do you play?
I play the role of Leada Encore. She’s a theatre critic who hates musicals. I have done this show. The last time I did this show was 25 years ago. I’ve done a lot of things in the meantime, but it’s nice to be part of this again, to revisit the role and do more with it now. It’s a lot of fun, and the cast is great, and I love working with Joel and Marvin again. I’ve been in theatre a long time. I do a one-person show, and I’m known for that. I’ve been doing that for years, tours and Broadway and this and that. I’m from California. I’m a California girl now. It’s my blonde hair, but I came back here to do this.
So you have done “Ruthless” before?
I have, but it’s a totally different vehicle now. Way different cast. My song for instance has been changed three or four times. I met Joel and Marvin about 24 years ago, and they are brilliant.
Yes, I interviewed them and they were so much fun.
They’re geniuses in what they do. Everyone else in the cast is really good. I have a wonderful gay following by the way.
Who are you in “Ruthless”?
I play Judy Denmark and Ginger Delmarko.
So you also play two roles?
I do. It’s the same person.
What play is your role fashioned after?
Ginger Delmarko is fashioned after “All About Eve.” So my character is pretty great. And Judy Denmark is the perfect housewife: “I love to cook and clean.” About halfway through the show I discover that I have talent, and once I make that discovery I turn in to Ginger Delmarko, “The Toast of Broadway.” So it’s the same woman.
So how long have you been doing theatre?
I’ve been doing theatre forever. I’ve been doing theatre for as long as I can remember, as a little kid. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do, except be a ballerina, but I gave that one up when I grew boobs. I’ve been with “Ruthless” since September at the tryouts.
So you’re so excited.
I’m so excited. This cast is amazing. Everyone has such specific, unique talent.
You seem like such a close group.
We genuinely love each other. We hang out after rehearsal. It’s like a giant love fest.
Marvin Laird & Joel Paley
The ruthlessly humorous and talented team of composer Marvin Laird (left) and writer and lyricist Joel Paley (right) will be presenting “Ruthless,” a tantalizing musical inspired by “The Bad Seed,” “All About Eve,” “Valley of the Dolls,” “Gypsy” and a host of other well-known productions.
This warm, friendly and fabulous couple have been together, living in harmony, for 38 years, and were simply a blessing to speak with. I found them enchanting, charming, sophisticated and most importantly extremely animated and excited all the way through the interview about “Ruthless.”
Hello Marvin and Joel, nice to meet you.
Marvin: We’ve been writing and have been partners in life for 38 years.
For that alone, you should be commended. I have a great respect for anyone who has been together longer than five years.
Joel: Honestly, it only feels like 37.
I knew you two would be fun. Now tell me about “Ruthless.”
Joel: This is the culmination of almost a quarter of a century of getting the show right. It’s been a process. What it’s really taken besides both of us maturing as writers and composers is time out. For the first time, it’s taken two people, Maxine Paul and Evan Sacks, who are more like godparents than producers, to make this show happen. Their combined love for us as creators and their love for this project truly stems from a deep and abiding love and respect, and not through a commercial place. The whole culmination of getting the script right and getting the production right truly is a product of love.
I understand that Ruthless is based on “The Bad Seed,” one of my favorite old-time movies.
Marvin: As a matter of fact, when we first met in 1976, I was conducting a TV special for Shirley MacLaine, and Joel was one of the founding members of the ballet troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Shirley had just seen the company performing, just before she did this special. She decided that she wanted to have the company, because they were so uproariously funny on the special. I was living in California at the time, so Shirley and I and the director all came to New York to watch a rehearsal. She already decided she was going to have them on, but she just needed to time their segment. That’s when I met Joel. I thought that Joel had the funniest subjects. I made a point of having lunch with him, and we talked seriously about what was funny and what wasn’t. He told me about his idea to turn “The Bad Seed” into a musical.
Joel: I have been so obsessed, even before I knew what it was about, when I was a baby. As I got older and I watched Rhoda Penmark with those metal cleats on her shoes. One morning I woke up and said, “My God, their tap shoes!” I originally called the show “Seedy,” and it was Rhoda Penmark and Mrs. Dagel. It was the musical of “The Bad Seed,” but I couldn’t get the rights from Maxwell Anderson’s widow. He bought the rights outright from the original author of the novel William Mark. This is before “South Park” and “The Simpsons,” so she just thought I was making fun of “The Bad Seed.” I’m a humorist, and when I love something, I parody it. It’s because I love it, not because I’m making fun of it. I’m celebrating it through my own view. So they would never give me the rights. So for years I had this hysterical version of “The Bad Seed,” and it could never be produced, until Marvin had been working with Bernadette Peters as her musical director for 53 years. Her manager at the time, this divine man, said to me, when “Saturday Night Live” had just started, he said, “You don’t need the rights; you’re not trying to pretend you made this up. You’re doing a parody. The laws of parody are changing.” So his suggestion was to throw in some other movies you love—“Valley of the Dolls,” “Gypsy,” “The Woman,” and parody a few things. Keep the theme and change the plot. So I asked myself the key question: Rhoda kills Claude for the penmanship medal. What would I kill for? The answer was so obvious: the lead in the school play.
I love it.
Joel: Although I did get the lead in the school play Oliver. I didn’t have to kill for it, but I would have. It became our own musing on show business on narcissism. As the years went on I realized that the parody of the “Bad Seed” was a reflection of growing up in a very narcissistic family. It really became its own creature. So I’d like to thank Mrs. Maxwell Anderson for not giving me the rights.
So where is it going to be performed, and how can people see “Ruthless”?
Joel: It’s at Saint Luke’s Theatre on 46th Street in Manhattan. The most important thing to Get Out! is the website, because it has all the information: ruthlessthemusical.com. The previews start June 25, and the show opens July 13.
And how long do you think it will run for?
Joel: Forever, because right now narcissism is like the new bipolar. In fact, Jerry Lewis isn’t having his telethon this year, so we thought we would like to do a telethon, a “Ruthless” telethon for narcissistic fibrosis.
ly work well together.
Joel: Well, we do, and we’re just getting it right. It just gets better and better.
Marvin: It just happens that last night at “The Tony Awards,” Emily Ashford, who won the Best Supporting Actress, played Tina as a child. So things have a way of coming full circle.
Joel: I wanna talk about women.
OK, go for it.
Joel: I’ve always been fascinated and always wanted to do a play with all women. I just find that the range of emotion and the range of costume and the range of everything so interesting. Just look at a wedding. Look what a bride gets to pick out and what a groom gets to pick out. As a creator I’ve always been drawn to creating and directing for woman. So when I wrote the piece I took all the men out of it. It was just going to be all women, but I couldn’t find a woman strong enough or funny enough to play Sylvia, the agent role, so I ended up going to a man. He gave the best performance. What’s really fascinating to me is it’s not a drag turn. This show has provided for the last 25 years for countless men and countless productions, whether straight or gay, the opportunity to channel their inner female side. When I was in the Trockadero in tutus, we didn’t think of ourselves in drag; we thought of ourselves as characters. It was a statement about man playing woman—just that this is the characters. So it’s been so interesting. We have British royalty playing Sylvia St. Croix. He’s come from across the pond. He’s married to a dame named Jillian Lynn, who choreographed “Cats” and “Phantom.” Her husband Peter Land is playing Sylvia, and he’s brave enough to channel his inner female side.
Marvin: I want to talk about women too. I had a chance last year for a lifelong ambition, to play Sylvia St. Croix. I was able to channel that inner female, although mine wasn’t so inner. I understand what that tapping into is. What we all have, although a lot of us are afraid to show it, is that wonderful female side. I personally happen to think that the most unappreciated role in life of everyone is motherhood. I also worked with women all my life. I used to do a lot of Vegas acts. I did Mama Cass Elliott, Dusty Springfield and Diana Ross, so my life has been about relating to women. To be able to have a stage full of fabulous woman, we feel that everyone in this cast is the ultimate person to pay that particular role.
Joel: I am going to be 60 this year and am the official understudy for 8-year-old Tina Denmark. Two years ago we did a local production to try out the new rewrites here in Connecticut, where we live. On the day of our dress rehearsal, our little 9-year-old girl was sick, and I called Marvin, who was in the city doing something with Bernadette. I said, “What are we going to do?” You said, “You have to play Tina.” So of course I had a Patty McCormick blonde-braided wig somewhere at the house, and I played the part. And again, I didn’t play it in drag, nor did I make fun of an adult playing a child. I played it honestly, and it worked so well. I wound up playing it for the first week. People said, “There is no little girl; this is a setup.” When it came time to move the show to New York I said, “How many shows can a middle-aged, Jewish man play an 8-year-old little girl? We have to do this, so if the kid can’t go on, I’m Tina Denmark.
I would love to see a performance of that.
Joel: Well, if I hear she gets sick, I’ll send out Indian runners.