Reviewed by George Basler

The Chenango River Theatre is going “camping” for the summer. I’m not talking about the outdoor version with tents and mosquitoes. I’m talking about the indoor version that sports a theatrical style that is delightfully over the top.

The style is on full display in Ruthless! The Musical now being given a darkly humorous production at the Greene theater. The madcap musical, which runs through July 28, revels in outrageousness as it spoofs classic Broadway shows. On full display are backstage duplicity, saccharine child stars and the quest for stardom at any cost.

The book and lyrics by Joel Paley keep the laughs coming at a steady pace. The music is supplied by Marvin Laird. The plot is so wonderfully ridiculous that it exemplifies the definition of “camp” as something that’s “so bad that it’s good.”

The six-women Chenango River Theatre cast, expertly directed by Kory Yamada, brings a sense of exuberant fun to the show. Flamboyant moments and exaggerated facial expressions are the order of the day in keeping with the show’s over-the-top tone.

 But cast members never fall victim to giving overly “hammy” performances. Moreover, they exhibit good Broadway-style singing voices.

Ruthless! The Musical won the 1993 New York Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical when it opened. It features a long list of “inside Broadway” references to classic musicals, such as Gypsy, and classic movies, such as All About Eve, that detail backstage machinations.

At its center is a parody of the play The Bad Seed about an eight-year-old murderess and her emotionally conflicted mother.

The plot contains enough twists and turns to tie Houdini in knots. Each twist is more ludicrous than the one before. The characters include a homicidal child star, a mother who transforms herself from a harried housewife to a Broadway diva, a rapacious theatrical agent who is not what she seems, a third-grade teacher who hates kids, an obsessive personal assistant and a theater critic who detests Broadway musicals.

The action begins when annoyingly precocious starlet Tina Denmark fails to get the lead in her third grade musical, Pippi in Tahiti, losing out to the woefully untalented Louise Lerman. Not one to take a setback graciously, Tina hangs Louise from the catwalk with a jump rope. The homicidal faux pas earns her an eight-year sentence in the Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingenues with time off for good behavior and “good reviews.”

In the Chenango River production, Tina is played by Vivian Waye, a college senior at Ohio University. Her performance is a remarkably skillful one. Not for a moment do you think she is not a devilish child, who is sugary sweet one moment and dementedly homicidal the next. Her singing voice fits the role perfectly. Her frilly costume, designed by Stephen Dell’Aversano, completes the illusion.

Kennedy Bastow is hilarious as Tina’s mother, Judy Denmark. Her physical mannerisms, facial expressions and vocal dexterity are priceless as she plays the suburban mom who reinvents herself as a bitchy Broadway diva. (Think Donna Reed becoming Lady MacBeth). It’s a comic performance of the first order that anchors the show.

Equally funny is Bex Odorisio as the overbearing agent, Sylvia St. Croix, who wants to take over Tina’s career. She plays the role with a brazen and sleezy attitude that provides continuous laughs. It’s an audacious performance that works.

As good as the three leads are, the CRT production would sputter without the solid performances provided by three supporting players. Alondra Hughes is all manic energy and zaniness as Tina’s frustrated teacher, who has the unenviable job of directing the third-grade turkey of a show.

Lina Marie does a splashy job as the sad-sack Louise in the first act and her vengeful mother in the second act. The mother has wormed her way into becoming Judy’s personal assist, Eve. (Please, please, don’t ask me to explain this —  go see the show.)

Finally, Mary Lauren is an absolute hoot as Tina’s grandmother, a caustic theater critic and full-blown dipsomaniac who shows up late in Act I. Her big number — “I Hate Musicals!” — stops the show cold.

Ruthless! The Musical has some slow moments near the end of Act I when the parody of The Bad Seed begins to run out of gas. The show’s music is hardly memorable and gets a bit repetitious. The humor also leans heavily on “inside Broadway” references that are catnip for theater aficionados but could go over the head of some audience members.

Overall, though, the show is a dark, delicious delight. A highlight is when the six cast members get to show off their stuff in the ensemble number “Ruthless! that comes near the end of the show. Choreographed by Kimberly Wilpon, it’s a high-spirited number that aims barbs at what it takes to stay on top in the show business world.

 The final scenes are examples of pure wackiness, and Yamada directs them at a fast pace that brings the action to a rousing close.

 Never has homicide been so much fun.

 IF YOU GO: The Chenango River Theatre in Greene will present Ruthless! The Musical through July 28. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $33 for all performances. The recommended way to buy tickets is at Tickets can also be purchased by calling the 24-hour box office line: 607-656-8499.

Free tickets for high school and college students are available at all evening performances. Email tickets@chenangorivertheatre for reservations, which are required for the free ticket program.