Move Over, Britney. Ten-Year-Old Novice Tori Murray Is Next to Join Ruthless! The Musical's Starry Ranks

”Ruthless!” cocreator Joel Paley giggles with his musical’s newest star over her petrified audition-room entrance and her new repertoire of four-letter words.

Ten-year-old Tori Murray stars as Tina Denmark in Ruthless! The Musical at Stage 72 at the Triad.

A new Tina has come to town — and she was born to entertain.
Since its 1992 off-Broadway premiere, Ruthless! The Musical — Marvin Laird and Joel Paley's All About Eve-meets-The Bad Seed comic homage to child stardom — has boasted an impressive lineup of young starlets-to-be. The first actress to fill the "ruthless" Tina Denmark's overworked tap shoes was future Legally Blonde Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy, with Britney Spears and Natalie Portman in the wings as two of her original understudies.

Ruthless! has now made its way back to the off-Broadway stage in an open run at the Triad Theatre. And true to its theatrical spirit, the satirical musical features a fresh 10-year-old talent by the name of Tori Murray — a New Jersey native whose first-ever professional audition wowed Paley (who directs the revival) into his logic-defying casting choice. And if he has anything to say about his new muse, Murray will be a future Broadway great about whom we'll all be saying "we knew her when…"

How did you find out about the audition for Ruthless?
Tori Murray: My dad came and picked me up early from school, in the middle of a math test, and he says, "You're going to audition for an off-Broadway show called Ruthless!" So he kind of tells me the plot and I'm like, "Oh, okay." The audition was actually the next day, so I went and auditioned and I ended up getting a callback.

Joel Paley: Did you know the song "Born to Entertain" already?

Tori: No.

Joel: You learned it that night?

Tori: At the Paper Mill, there was this girl — that was like her favorite song ever. So every time we got the chance to get up in front of each other and sing she would always sing "Born to Entertain." So I knew the last part, but the first part…I didn't even know there was a first part! [laughs]

Joel: Sixteen bars and off!

Did she audition for you, Joel?
Joel: She did. I'll never forget this. Tori walked in very quietly and she was looking at me, and I said, "Hi, are you going to sing for us?" And she just shook her head so slightly yes. Then she opened her mouth and everyone in the room just stopped what they were doing and sat up. We were speechless. And then we find out this is her first audition. I didn't even know if she could dance. I said, "I don't care. We're going to roll the dice because this is the real thing. Two weeks later, she stepped out in front of an audience and gave the performance of a lifetime. We didn't even have the time to do a dress rehearsal. We just worked all the individual scenes. Her first complete run-through of the show was on opening night.

Where did you learn to sing?
Tori: When I was in first grade, my mom signed me up for this after-school program, and we had a performance at the end of it. When I first got there, I was hiding behind my mom's leg because I was a really shy kid at that age. I still kind of am. So then we all got in a circle, and I was just kind of humming a Taylor Swift song, and the teacher was like, "Can you sing that out loud?" So I started singing, and she gave me a solo and that was when I started thinking, Wow, I love this.

Tori Murray as Tina Denmark in Ruthless! The Musical at Stage 72 at the Triad.
Murray in a performance of Ruthless! The Musical.
(courtesy of the production)

Were you nervous for your audition?
Tori: I was really nervous. I just got in there and I was like… [makes cringing expression].

Joel: That's exactly the face. We were scared for her.

Tori: Before I went in, my friends were like, "Remember to be happy! Be peppy!" And then when I got in there I was like, Oh boy.

Joel: But then it just came out. Like a light went on. And then another light went on when she did it in front of an audience. Of course we're always nervous about — there are some bad words. And as the show goes on and on, they're getting progressively worse. Because we're trying to keep up with the times.

Tori: When I first saw the script that I was supposed to do, I was like, "Mom, am I allowed to say these words?" All of my friends want to come see the show, but their parents are like, ehhh

Is it difficult at all balancing school with the show?
Tori: Sometimes it can get stressful when I have those ten-sheets of homework…But I always have that long car ride home to get them done. [laughs] My language arts teacher — she totally gets it, because she says, you know what, you're doing a lot more language arts here than you probably would be doing in school. [laughs]

Joel: Some serious four-letter language arts.

You’ve had a pretty starry roster of Tinas over the years, between Laura Bell Bundy, Natalie Portman, and Britney Spears. What's it like seeing where all of them have gone?
Joel: It's thrilling. But I'll tell you this — and I never said this about them, but I will say it now about Tori: This is the performance you have to see because sooner than later, people are going to say, "I saw her at the Triad Theatre when she was ten." I know that's going to happen. Laura was terrific, Britney was terrific, but I certainly didn't know it. This time, it's like, "Catch this now, because this is really something special."

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