Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical ★★★★

Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical reworks the classic hit film Cruel Intentions with a soundtrack of the greatest ‘90s pop classics

Based on the 1999 cult movie that starred Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle  and Ryan Phillipe, and inspired by the French novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical sees hedonistic step siblings, Kathryn and Sebastian, bored with their Manhattan penthouse lifestyle, deciding to place a wager on Sebastian’s playboy abilities to see if he can convince the virtuous, virgin manifesto-writing and the new Headmaster’s daughter, Annette Hargrove to sleep with him before school starts. The games begin and Kathryn and Sebastian manipulate to get what they want without any concern for the destruction and broken hearts they may leave behind.

Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction and staging superbly takes you into this Manhattan upper-east side way of life, with jocks and preppy sweater-wearing high school students appearing from alcoves onto the marble chess-board rotating stage, moving through the seasons on a colour palette reminiscent of the film and seamless set changes. Gary Lloyd’s dance sequences are playful, cool and kitsch and evoke the period without needing to bust into full break-dancing routines.

Images by Pamela Raith

With a soundtrack full of guilty pleasures, Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical is a splendid night out and you can’t help but have fun hearing these long-lost friends. Some of the songs are direct nods to the film, taking the original soundtrack and having them sung live on stage, Every You, Every Me from the opening credits and Lovefool for the swimming pool scene, Colourblind at the grey scale train station and the finale Bittersweet Symphony. As for the songs not taken from the motion-picture soundtrack, there are unapologetically cheesy segues from the text to the music, they almost seem to be offering a wink to the audience for the appropriateness of each song for the moment. The winner being Jess Buckby’s Bunny Caldwell rendition of an ‘on the line’ performance of No Scrubs forbidding a talented music teacher, Nickcolia King-N’Da’s Ronald, from dating her innocent, virtuous and ‘pure’ Cecille. Unfortunately some songs felt too tenuously linked to the context and shoehorned into moments where Spice Girls and *NSYNC was an unexpected choice.

The ensemble cast gel perfectly, each bringing their own exceptional talent to the roles they were born to play. Referring to the uncanny performance of Daniel Bravo as sunglasses, floaty shirt and turtle neck wearing, Sebastian Valmont, evocative of Ryan Philippe’s
portrayal from the 1999 film, Bravo adds his own unique touch. Bravo finely plays Sebastian’s change from the manipulative, playboy to the hopeless doomed romantic. Dare say you may prefer Bravo to Philippe, especially after hearing the love ballad, Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris.

Abbie Budden, with a 1.5 million following online does well as Annette, keeping her equally charming and coquettish. The subplot with Blaine, (Josh Barnett) and Greg (Barney Wilkinson) starts off as a honey trap and ends quite sweetly. The awe-inspiring vocal range of Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Kathryn Mertuil makes up for the malevolent, deranged, two faced, damaged and villainous character. The performance of ‘Kathryn’s turn’ as she breaks down will leave you with chills and your jaw on the floor for the final note. In her professional debut, Rose Galbraith’s Cecille is the perfect mix of childish innocence, sexual naivety and adolescent angst. Cecille’s performance of Boys II Men’s I’ll Make Love to You is sweetly immature and juvenile, providing the perfect contrast needed to the underlying sickly sadistic step-sibling sexual tension running through the show.

With enough oral sex references to make your mother blush it does not shy away from the risqué content. Through cringe-inducing moments from the childlike and innocent Celine’s sexual awakening, the iconic park kissing lesson with Kathryn and Sebastian’s ‘literary class’ and Greg caught in flagrante. The audience are left wriggling in their seats during the intimate scenes, as it feels almost voyeuristic, especially when manipulation is at play.

For those that have not seen the film, the story happens very quickly, blink and you miss it. Audience members who have no idea what to expect will be equally enthralled and shocked at the same time by the content and the plot, but for those that know and love the film it is the perfect homage to and adaptation of the original. A naughty night out with friends, but perhaps leave your mum at home.

This being a Jukebox musical, audiences are left wondering what original soundtrack would have added to this production. What would Cecille and Ronald sing to each other if they didn’t have Deep Blue Something’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and they had to create original music, perhaps it would have been a song worthy of that final star. For now it stays comfortably at 4 stars as a great night out, with a 90’s pop nostalgia smack in the face, tenuous song choices and a generous sprinkling of sexual angst. Embedding this jukebox musical, which should be aptly renamed to soundtrack musical, firmly on the list of cult classics, matching its Hollywood predecessor.

Make your own liaison with the 90s – ★★★★ 4 stars

Cruel Intentions Tickets

Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical runs at The Other Palace until 19 May 2024

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