A wannabe child star is ‘Ruthless’-LY funny in LVLT’s kitschy new musical

From left: Cory Benway as Sylvia St. Croix, Teah Destefano as Tina Denmark, and Evelyn Connors as Judy Denmark, in Ruthless! at the Las Vegas Little Theater.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

It’s an over-the-top ode to over-the-top ambition. In the Off-Broadway cult classic Ruthless!, 8-year-old Tina Denmark literally kills for the lead role in her school play. The New York Times describes the musical as “so high camp there ought to be a sleepaway version.”

The sheer comic ridiculousness of Ruthless! is what attracted director Rob Kastil to the script. “I’ve loved this play ever since it opened in 1992,” he says. “It’s a take off of The Bad Seed, All About Eve, Gypsy, Mame and every other over-the-top musical. It’s a lot of fun.”

Ditto for actor Evelyn Connors, who has also always dreamed of performing in Ruthless!. “The show came out when I was 15,” Connors says. “I wanted to be Judy Denmark, but I knew I wasn’t old enough.” She waited for her chance throughout her pro career, but it never came. After “retiring” to Vegas to work as a lifestyle director for high-rise condo towers, she was finally cast in her dream role.

Connors is the perfect Denmark, a deceptively typical housewife and stage mother. “One of the reasons I love this show is because I feel like I’ve lived this life,” Connors says. “There’s not a person out there who can’t relate to this show, even if they just did high school theater for a hot minute.”

Ironically, Kastil shied away from producing a show about a wannabe child star because of the challenge of working with a child star. In the best of times, kids are notoriously unpredictable, so what would happen if you directed them to unleash their murderous instincts? (Case in point: Both Britney Spears and Natalie Portman have played the role of Tina.) Some directors have solved the problem by casting older actors, but Kastil nixed that idea. Finally, he decided to try his luck. “We decided to go for it with open auditions,” Kastil says. “We were shocked and thrilled by the talent out there.”

He cast local 10-year-old Teah DeStefano, who like her fictional counterpart dreams of entertainment stardom. “I really want to grow up to be a TV star,” she says at a rehearsal. Her brown hair is in twisted buns and a wig cap. “I love acting.”

“It’s my first time ever working with a child,” Connors says. “It’s been surprisingly delightful. Teah is lovely. She’s more professional than most of us.”

A few minutes later, DeStefano takes the stage in a curly blonde wig and belting the song, “Born to Entertain.” DeStefano says the role of Tina is fun to play because the character is like a roller coaster ride. “She can appear very sweet and innocent. Then as quick as lightning she can turn into a devil when she doesn’t get her way.”

RUTHLESS! July 13-29; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $20-$25. Las Vegas Little Theatre, 702-362-7996.

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