Ruthless, The Musical

by Diane Grant

Theatre Palisades just finished a run of Ruthless, The Musical,  by Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (music).  It’s a dark comedy about a ruthless little girl who would do anything ANYTHING to play Pippi Longstocking in the school play.  And she does, of course. 

Spoiler.  Bodies all over the place at the end!

When I heard about the play, I was drawn to it immediately because my daughter and I watched all (I think all.  I’d hate to think we missed any) of the Pippi Longstocking movies.  For those deprived of that pleasure, I must tell you that Pippi is a little Swedish girl with amazing powers.  On fact, she is the world’s strongest girl.  She can leap from the ground and into a high tree branch just like that!  She has red hair and a gap tooth and a father who is at sea.  

Her Mother is no longer living and Pippi lives in her house with only her horse and her monkey.  She has two other best friends, too, her neighbors, Tommy and Annika, and they all have many adventures together. (Wikipedia tells me that the original Swedish language books set Pippi’s full name as Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter!)

You can see that it would be a thrill to play such a girl in the school play.  More importantly, it is the lead in the school play.  The LEAD! 

The little girl in Ruthless is nothing like Pippi.  She is much more like the girl in The Bad Seed.  (The writers couldn’t get the rights to that and just ran with the idea!)

The music seems to come from the heart of the writers and one of the songs, in which a third grade teacher sings about being a third grade teacher as “something to fall back on” sent all the show biz aspirants, in the theater, including me, into a swoon.

It started me thinking.  Wouldn’t be wonderful to invent a girl protagonist, people would fall in love with and want to follow through many adventures?  Anne of Avonlea?  Ramona Quimby? Nancy Drew? Harriet, the Spy?

Where do these characters come from?  Beverly Cleary said that she heard her neighbor calling her little girl, Ramona, and Ramona Quimby was born.  Nancy Drew was a detective in a mystery series created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. She was the counterpart to the Hardy Boys series.  

In 1908, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was published by a company in Boston and sold just under 20,000 copies in under half a year.  Montgomery had made notes as a young girl about a couple who were mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they had requested and the notes became the inspiration for the book.

In 1964, Louise Fitzhugh created eleven-year-old Harriet M. Welsch.  Harriet is an aspiring writer who lives in New York City.  She’s precocious, ambitious and enthusiastic about her future career. Encouraged by her nanny, Catherine “Ole Golly,” Harriet carefully observes others and writes her thoughts down in a notebook as practice for her future career, to which she dedicates her life. She follows an afternoon “spy route”, during which she observes her classmates, friends, and people who reside in her neighborhood.

In 1990, J.K.Rowling was on a train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry Potter suddenly “fell into her head”. Rowling gives an account of the experience on her website saying:  “I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.”

I don’t have a train to take but can invent my own spy route.  I’ll just be more observant on my daily walks, maybe even change the route a little.  Diane, the Spy.  (It could work!  No?)

Remember that writing is to put love in the world, not to use against your friends. But to yourself you must tell the truth.” –Ole Golly, Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

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