Ruthless!, Effective Theatre and Porchlight Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. This hilarious showbiz spoof by playwright-lyricist Joel Paley and composer Marvin Laird combines sharp one-liners and savvy in-jokes with plot twists and characters lifted from The Bad Seed, Gypsy, and All About Eve. Talented but temperamental third-grader Tina Denmark snags the title role in her school show by knocking off her rival; when Tina is carted off to the Daisy Clover Home for Psychopathic Ingenues, her mom Judy is transformed from Stepford-esque housewife to Broadway star, despite bad reviews from her own foster mother, theater critic Lita Encore. And failed actress Sylvia St. Croix vents her frustrations by running the others’ lives. In this warped world of demented divas, meddlesome managers, and vindictive reviewers, getting ahead takes not only talent but unfettered chutzpah and a total lack of morals; who says art doesn’t imitate life?

Director L. Walter Stearns brings an informed, affectionate touch to this tuneful laughfest. His non-Equity actors don’t have the bravura voices and razor-sharp timing of the show’s riotously funny 1993 midwest premiere at the now defunct Candlelight’s Forum Theatre, but they attack the marvelous material with energy and attitude. Joan Maurer’s Judy switches from Donna Reed to Patti LuPone with aplomb; Camille Larrea as Lita pulls off a neat Merman-Garland parody; Aaron Hunt does a droll drag turn as Sylvia; and the grown-up Pamela S. Fox is surprisingly credible as precocious preteen Tina, for whom homicide is as essential a tool as tap shoes. –Albert Williams