Cruel Intentions: The 90's Musical at Athenaeum Theatre - 120 minutes, plus a 20-minute interval
Updated: Feb 19
Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical sizzles, with powerhouse performances and a rousing score.
There’s palpable excitement and anticipation in the theatre even before the metaphorical curtain rises.
Once it does, Cruel Intentions is energetic and electrifying, oozing with sensuality and sexuality.
Photos by Nicole Cleary
It is slick, moving along at pace and milking the copious double entendres and physical interaction that are inherent to the script.
The subject matter: manipulative youngsters behaving badly. Well, two in particular.
It is based on the 1999 movie of the same name, which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe and Reece Witherspoon.
Teenagers Kathryn Murteuil (Kirby Burgess) and Sebastian Valmont (Drew Weston) are promiscuous step siblings.
Murteuil puts on the air of decency and responsibility. In reality, she is anything but.
Valmont is all about increasing the number of notches on his belt, even when that means deflowering innocent young “victims”.
The one he has never “had” though is Murteuil and he is hot for her.
So, she suggests a wager and, if he wins, that will mean she will “put out”.
In the meantime, she wants to get her own back on a guy that dumped her.
Valmont’s challenge is to bed the pure, “taken” daughter of the new headmaster. Her name is Annette Hargrove (Kelsey Halge).
The uninhibited storyline works magnificently with the up-tempo music score.
I speak of popular ‘90s hits such as Genie in a Bottle, Kiss Me, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Man! I Feel Like a Woman! in the first act alone.
Thereafter, follows I’ll Make Love to You, Torn, Foolish Games and Losing My Religion, to name but a few more.
Even more than 20 years on from the film, the storyline still has bite and no shortage of titillation.
It speaks to the perceptions and expectations of men and women – the slut shamer versus the stud. At its core is nihilism.
I could not be more impressed by Kirby Burgess as Kathryn Merteuil than I was. Burgess is dynamic and assured, fully capitalising on the toxicity that is the hallmark of her character.
Vocally, she blows the roof off it and that is not to overlook the athleticism she brings to the role. Wow. Just wow.
Drew Weston, too, milks the smooth, but sleazy, hunk persona of Sebastian Valmont for all its worth. Weston gives an acting and vocal masterclass, exploiting facial expression to full effect.
Kelsey Halge is triumphant as the sweet natured Annette Hargrove.
Sarah Krndija is a comic tour de force as the innocent but eager to learn Cecile Caldwell. She is an absolute scream – her utterances and expressiveness delight.
Ross Chisari dines out on Blaine Tuttle’s shocked body language (Tuttle is a friend of Valmont) as he gets together with readily manipulated jock Greg McConnell (an enthusiastic Joseph Spanti), who is in Valmont’s pocket.
Rishab Kern shines as music teacher Ronald Clifford, who bonds with his student Cecile Caldwell.
Fem Belling makes the most of her featured role as the strait-laced and elitist Mrs Caldwell, bringing out two sides to the latter’s character.
All 14 cast members and a terrific band under the direction of Daniel Puckey give it their all. That effort and enthusiasm is repaid in spades by an appreciative audience.
With movement aplenty (characters are constantly on and off stage) choreography is critically important in a work such as this. Choreographer Freya List has nailed it.
I also loved the constantly in motion set design with bright coloured lighting and words illuminated on the set. It is the work of set designer James Browne, lighting designer Declan O’Neill and video designer Craig Wilkinson.
Director Alister Smith has done a superb job in elevating a fan favourite of the late ‘90s into what has all the makings of a cult classic.
It is such a sassy and fun show. I couldn’t get enough of it and would gladly see it again and again.
Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical is playing at the Athenaeum Theatre until 5th March, 2023.