Young stars share lead role in Moxie musical ‘Ruthless’

Clever songs, belly laughs and old-style show-biz pizzazz abound in Moxie Theatre’s upcoming cure for the summertime blues, opening July 16. Ta-da! It’s “Ruthless! The Musical,” a campy, cult classic featuring a talented 8-year-old who would literally kill to get the lead in her school play.

An award-winning hit in New York in 1992, “Ruthless” spoofs Broadway musicals and movies like “The Bad Seed,” “Gypsy,” and “All About Eve,” and its 2015 revival won another award for Best Off-Broadway Show.

Co-directed here by acclaimed performer, director and musical coach Leigh Scarritt and Moxie’s own award-winning artistic director, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, the show is full of delights for all ages. Among them are two young rising stars who share the role of Tina, the ruthless kid who’s dead-set on success.

Both 7-year-old Madison O’Donovan, a soon-to-be second grader, and 10-year-old Ainsley Savant, enroute to sixth-grade, have been training with Miss Leigh for several years and performing in cabaret acts with Leigh Scarritt Productions. Both are accomplished singers and dancers, although “Ruthless” is their theatrical debut, or, as Ainsley pointed out, their first Equity show. In the words of Tina’s big number, both girls were “Born to Entertain.”

“Tina wants to show the world she’s meant to be a star,” said Ainsley.

“She wants to be a star in her family, and I do, too,” said Madison. “When I play Tina, I like when she gets to be a little jealous, but I feel strange in rehearsal with Maddie (7-year-old Madeline Hernandez, who plays Louise, the main obstacle in Tina’s path to stardom) because I have to say bad words to her.”

“She’s getting the parts, and we’re getting the puddles,” Ainsley explained.

“Maddie’s my friend, so it’s hard to be nasty to her, but it’s not real; it’s just acting,” said Madison.

“I love playing Tina because she’s someone I’m not, and it’s way more fun to play someone I’m not,” said Ainsley. “And I think it’s fun to share the role with Madison. It would be really hard for one girl to do the lead every night, but she’s great to work with and each of our Tinas is a little different. She’s doing the Madison Tina and I’m doing the Ainsley Tina.”

Another highlight in the show is local theater critic Pat Launer, going onstage again — as she does every decade or so — playing (what else?) a theater critic.

“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Launer said. “The fun of playing a critic, though she’s much more caustic than I am, and then the opportunity to work with Leigh and Delicia together — a very dynamic duo.”

An all-female musical — well, sort of — “Ruthless” was written by a couple of guys: Joel Paley (Book and Lyrics) and Marvin Laird (Music), who actually stepped into the roles of Tina and her overbearing talent agent Sylvia St. Croix for a Broadway AIDS benefit in 2014.

Spilling the plot would spoil the fun, so you’ll have to see the show for yourself ... and be careful not to die laughing.

FUN FACT: Britney Spears was one of the understudies for Tina in the original off-Broadway production of “Ruthless” in 1992.

IF YOU GO: “Ruthless! The Musical,” is at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N, San Diego. July 16-Aug. 7. Tickets: $20-$40. (858) 598-7620.