Book and lyrics by Joel Paley. Music by Marvin Laird. Directed by David C. Jones. An Ophidian Entertainment production.

At the Waterfront Theatre until November 20

Ruthless! is like confetti: there's a lot of air between the bits but they keep coming.

This musical quotes many of the old-school camp classics: Gypsy, All About Eve, even The Bad Seed. The plot--if you can call it that--concerns Tina Denmark, an eight-year-old demon of show-business ambition. When another child gets the lead in the school play, Pippi in Tahiti, Tina murders the competition by wrapping a skipping rope around her neck and hanging her off the theatre's catwalk. But Ruthless! doesn't really have much of a story. The characters are movie-poster thin, and the plot is more a series of self-conscious setups than a set of motivated progressions.

The only ambition Ruthless! has is to make us laugh, which it does with reasonable regularity--often through casual audacity. When Tina finds out that she has been passed over for the role of her dreams, the little girl pouts: "Louise Lerman is too Jewish to play Pippi." In my favourite theatre-insider bit, Tina's painfully perky mother, Judy, criticizes Sylvia St. Croix, Tina's manager, when Sylvia sings a song. "What do you know about it?" Sylvia sneers, and Judy replies: "Well, I know enough to know that you're pushing for results. You're not in the moment. You're indicating." This is classic theatre talk.

On the downside, not all of the songs are clever enough to sustain themselves on wit alone. Marvin Laird's music is entirely forgettable. And the evening is longer than it needs to be: it ran two-and-three-quarter hours on opening night.

Partly, I'm sure that's because this Ophidian production was having technical problems, especially with sound. Other than that, director David C. Jones's mounting is very handsome. Playing Tina, 12-year-old Carly Bondar displays a powerful and flexible voice, and she delivers the script's dark humour with confidence. In the performance that holds the show together, Heather Feeney plays Judy; Feeney's got a great set of pipes and a wicked sense of humour. Still, I had the most fun with the supporting performances. In the dual roles of Louise Lerman and a scheming actor named Eve, Rebecca Codling surprised me with her nasty, inspired performance. Greg Armstrong-Morris plays theatre critic Lita Encore, Judy's adoptive mother, with hilarious, bossy brass. And Nomi Lyonns stops the show as Miss Thorn, Tina's teacher, when she sings the sultry song of frustration, "Teaching Third Grade". Denis Simpson embodies Sylvia St. Croix, the second drag role. He looks fantastic in Christine Sinosich's costumes--everybody does--but he could be more spontaneous.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie's choreography slyly refers to everything from Mame to All That Jazz.

Think of Ruthless! as early Christmas candy--the poisoned kind.