Manipulative youngsters behaving badly. Well, two in particular.
That is what Cruel Intentions The 90’s Musical is all about.
It is based on the 1999 movie of the same name, which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe and Reece Witherspoon.
It began its journey in 2015 as an unauthorised work, brought together by Jordon Ross and Lindsay Rosin. The writer and director of the movie, Roger Kumble, saw it in preview and became a champion for the piece.
Photos by Nicole Cleary
While the 90’s Musical is a retelling of the film, it was based on a play, which – in turn – was based on a French novel written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos in 1782.
The setting for the film traded baroque French socialites for Manhattan’s Upper East Side and, so too, has this musical.
Teenagers Kathryn Murteuil (Kirby Burgess) and Sebastian Valmont (Drew Weston) are promiscuous step siblings.
Murteuil puts on the air of decency and responsibility. In fact, 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 “give over”.
In the meantime, she wants to get her own back on a guy that dumped her, while his challenge is to bed the pure, “taken” daughter of the new headmaster, Annette Hargrove (Kelsey Halge).
The sexually charged storyline works well with the up-tempo music score featuring popular ‘90s hits such as Genie in a Bottle, Kiss Me, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Man! I Feel Like a Woman! (and that is in the first act alone).
Thereafter, follow 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, 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.
My big and only letdown was the music drowned out the vocals throughout the first act, meaning that you couldn’t clearly hear much of what the performers were mouthing.
That was bitterly disappointing.
Fortunately, that was totally rectified in the second act. It was like chalk and cheese. It was quite the revelation. Suddenly, you could actually appreciate just how good the singing was.
And the simple fix was turning down the microphones on the band, which – by the way – was very good musically. The music director is Daniel Puckey.
While all the cast do a fine job with the material, the affectations of Francine Cain as the naïve Cecile Caldwell – who dated the bloke who broke up with Kathryn Murteuil – are an over-the-top delight.
She is a scene stealer and then some, giving showiness an extra nudge.
I also appreciated Euan Fistrovic Doidge’s turn as Sebastian Valmont’s gay friend and fellow seducer Blaine Tuttle.
Drew Weston and Kirby Burgess are slick and necessarily “diabolical” as the pompous Valmont and equally supercilious Murteuil.
The simple set design is greatly enhanced by the effusive, ever changing video offering (a steady stream of words and images), projected upon it, along with mood lighting.
That is the collective endeavour of set designer James Browne, video designer Craig Wilkinson and lighting designer Declan O’Neill.
Choreography is critically important in a work such as this and Freya List has nailed it.
Director Alister Smith (along with resident director and choreographer Tanya Mitford) has breathed new life into a fan favourite of the late ‘90s and, most appropriately, there is a lot of love in the room for what he has achieved.
Here’s hoping the band volume problem which plagued the first act on opening night is not an issue for any others who venture along to the Athenaeum Theatre to see what is a fun-filled, laughter-inducing jukebox musical.
Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical is playing in Melbourne until 19th June.
It then heads to Sydney’s State Theatre on 30th June, Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall on 27th July, Perth’s Regal Theatre on 24th August, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide on 8th September and Canberra Theatre from 5th October.