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Jason Gardiner is a scene-stealer in ‘Ruthless! The Musical’ at The Arts Theatre, London – review

The Dancing On Ice judge turns femme fatale in this deliciously sharp musical.

By Will Stroude

With his skyscraper legs and razor-blade cheekbones, Jason Gardiner is a fantastic femme fatale in Ruthless! The Musical.

Done up like a redheaded Joan Crawford, he’s all quivering lips and pushy platitudes as Sylvia St Croix, an agent who latches onto a talented youngster, and if the Dancing On Ice judge hasn’t done West End theatre for 18 years it sure doesn’t show. He steals scenes in a female-centric production that’s all about theatrical oneupmanship at its most savage.

The youngster Sylvia sets her sights on grooming for the big time is Tina Denmark, who is played in rotation by four young actresses. If they’re all as good as Anya Evans, the Tina we saw on opening night, they’re as destined for success as Tina herself – a bratty little bitch who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to further her career – is surely headed for hell.

Evans is like Shirley Temple on crack, dropping F-bombs and singing her hateful heart out with get-out-of-my-way pizazz.

As her mum Judy, who gets her own shot at the big time after the interval, Kim Maresca (who was in the off-Broadway production a couple of years back) does a dazzling double act as she morphs from suburban housewife to Broadway sensation.

Harriet Thorpe is very funny as a tough-cookie teacher who directs school plays like they’re professional productions and Tracie Bennett is on her always-brilliant form as Tina’s grandma, a critic with the delicious name of Lita Encore whose big I Hate Musicals number takes on extra resonance given Bennett’s two Olivier awards for supporting turns in She Loves Me and Hairspray and her Tony nomination for End Of The Rainbow.

Joel Paley’s book and lyrics are full of quotable lines and Marvin Laird’s tunes are catchy showstoppers in a fast-paced rollercoaster of a show that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.

Rounding out the all-female cast is Lara Denning, who earns her share of laughs as an assistant named Eve who is waiting in the wings for her own shot at success. And there are so many laughs in the show they should have ambulances on standby for anyone needing stitches.

Rating: 5/5

Ruthless! The Musical is on at The Arts Theatre, London, until 23 June.