Red Masquers end season with campus debut of ‘Ruthless!’

Ava Rieger | Staff Photographer | Ashley Caldwell (left) and Julia Kadar (center) took on two of the three lead roles, Tina and Judy Denmark, respectively, as freshman while Matt Dudley (right) practiced drag for the first time in his role of Sylvia St. Croix.

Naomi Girson | Staff Writer

None of us are immune to the desire for success and for some, the competitive spirit that propels us toward our goals can become overwhelming and, at times, ruthless.

For third grader Tina Denmark, a young girl who dreams of being on Broadway, her craving for the lead role of Pippi Longstocking in her school’s production of “Pippi in Tahiti” leads her to abandon her bubbly facade in lieu of show business and murder.

The Red Masquers showcase Tina’s story in the last show of the 2023-2024 season at Genesius Theater with their production of “Ruthless!,” a musical, originally written by Joel Paley. Running from April 18 to 28, the theater troupe is running six showings between Thursday and Sunday the next two weeks.

In preparation for the show’s campus debut, the Red Masquers invited The Duke to preview rehearsals earlier last week.

Encouraged by her mother, Judy (Julia Kadar), and her agent, Sylvia, Tina believed she was destined for stardom, “but, things take a turn for the worse. Tina’s ‘talent’ might not be able to save her in the end,” according to the Red Masquers CampusLink.

After Tina’s behavior is discovered, she is later sent away to Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingenues. Meanwhile, her mother Judy uncovered her own aptitude for the melodramatic.

Freshman Red Masquer Ashley Caldwell, who portrays the role of Tina, said she took inspiration from past child stars when bringing the character to life on stage.

“I really thought of Shirley Temple, and I don’t really know what the vengeful part came from,” Caldwell said. “I wanted it to seem like [Tina] was a little kid but that there’s always a demon side.”

Because “Ruthless!” presents a show within a show, the audience is privy to Tina’s psychopathic nature. Using her talents to put her in center stage at every opportunity, Tina is quick to claim the spotlight. But offstage, her intentions of insatiable vengeance become disturbingly clear.

“You can tell when she’s [Tina] acting,” Caldwell said.

The cast is small, with three leads and four supporting actresses. Every character in “Ruthless!” is a woman, but Tina’s agent, Sylvia St. Croix (Matt Dudley), is intentionally cast in drag.

Though the cast is full of dramatic characters, Sylvia St. Croix takes the cake for the biggest diva from her first entrance at the beginning of the show to all of her striking moments in the spotlight.

Though the material may seem daunting to those who are unfamiliar with the show, “Ruthless!” also presented refreshing and unexpected humor to balance out its dark elements. Dudley’s dramatic ad libs garnered him the most laughter.

“[The cast will] tell jokes and I’ll still laugh at them. I’ve seen them 20 times and I’ll still laugh,” said stage manager Iya Yancura.

Comparable to the humor of a Mel Brooks’ production – albeit less raunchy – the musical numbers also lend to the balance between unhinged determination and the satire of child stardom.

“The show is not what it seems at all. It’s very comedic in ways that you wouldn’t really expect,” said Red Masquers vice president Ellie Troiani.

In addition to their comedic delivery, the cast was very talented in their vocal ability. The set list ranged from dramatic solos and ballads, to quippy upbeat songs about mundanity and its Broadway counterpart.

Kadar was the first voice heard in the show, cheerfully going back and forth across her living room to answer the phone like a proper 1950s housewife.

Although Judy learned of her musical abilities during the 105-minute show, Kadar’s voice was powerful and well-tuned from the start. Mirroring her confidence, the character showcased more solo pieces during the second act, but perhaps most notable was the vocal blending between Kadar and Dudley before the intermission.

Meanwhile, the props in the show were fairly minimal – if you don’t count tap shoes – but each prop had its own comedic flair and satirical nature.

Many of the auxiliary pieces doubled as ‘Pippi in Tahiti’ rehearsal props, like the jump rope that Tina used to unleash her vengeance.

Cast members wielded their props in interactive ways as well, using a small water gun to immerse the audience in their antics (and their ammo).

During rehearsals, some of the props malfunctioned, and other prop work was not yet well-practiced, but the mistaken behaviors only added to the fun for the cast, crew and audience alike.

“I just want [the audience] to have a good time and come out with a ‘WTF’ moment,” Troiani said.

Tickets for the show start at $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors and general students, but Duquesne affiliated students, faculty and staff can purchase tickets for $10 by visiting