Cruel Intentions The 90s Musical @ Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide 9/9/2022

Passion, love, betrayal, power, privilege, envy, sex, and an abundance of 90’s nostalgia envelop Her Majesty’s Theatre as Cruel Intentions The 90’s Musical arrives in Adelaide/ Tarntanya.

With a rich history originating from the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782), the musical was created in 2015 by Jordan Ross and Lindsey Rosin. It is an homage to the 1999 hit movie starring Sarah Michelle Geller, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair.

Cruel Intentions embroils you in the Machiavellian world of Manhattan’s tantalizing entanglements. Step siblings Sebastian (Drew Weston) and Kathryn (Kirby Burgess) plot to ravage wholesome Annette Hargrove (Kelsey Halge) and anyone who interferes in their scheme. Inflamed by vengeance and lust, they become enmeshed in secrets, lies, and love.

Produced by David Venn and directed by Alister Smith, the Australian adaptation embraces and lauds the 90s. From platform shoes and micro mini-skirts to boy band pop and grunge music, it highlights the culturally good, bad and ugly synonymous with an unforgettable decade. Set designer James Browne and video designer Craig Wilkinson adopt a think smarter, not harder, approach with their designs. Six primary set pieces screaming Upper East Side wealth form the (moveable) set. The positioning of the pieces, when combined with video projections and soundscapes from audio designer Greg Ginger appoint the time and place for each scene. Whether we are in Sebastian and Kathryn’s home watching them conspire and manipulate, or outside in a park watching Kathryn teach Cecile (Francine Cain) how to kiss, it is convincing.

The musical does not shy away from all plot points found in the film, regardless of potential live performance difficulties. Sex scenes are included in a comedic, titillating yet respectful manner. In fact, the entire performance is comical. Actually, it is belly laugh hilarious from start to finish.

The narrative flows well and is highly engaging. The diffusion of a sensational ’90s soundtrack throughout the script is a highlight. Such transitions from dialogue to song are subtle but impactful. Cecile singing Ace of Bases’ The Sign after Weston kisses her “down there” is chef’s kiss brilliant. Similar progressions are scattered throughout.

With music direction from Daniel Puckey, a live band sits upstage, albeit shrouded by the set. Their accompaniment to songs such as Sex and Candy (Marcy Playground), Iris (Goo Goo Dolls) and Bye Bye Bye (*NSYNC) adds a dynamic element to an already exceptional production.

Freya List’s choreography is purposeful, complementing the narrative and music. She ensures the cast utilises the entire stage, including the band’s scaffold. This brings additional dimension and added richness.

When all facets of the production intersect with precision, such as Act Two’s Bittersweet Symphony, it is truly a sight to behold.

The opening night’s standout performance comes from Cain. The essence of simple and easily manipulated Cecile is highlighted by her physicality and pesky, whiney voice. Her uncanny resemblance to Selma Blair does not go unnoticed and adds to her suitability for the role. Your eye is drawn to Cain in every scene she stars in. Those with Rishab Kern as Ronald Clifford are particularly arresting. In his professional stage debut, Kern shines as the young music teacher. His No Scrubs (TLC) duet with Mrs Caldwell (Fem Belling) in Act Two is unexpected but superb.

In a musical comedy, it is challenging to incorporate comedic relief since comedy underpins the narrative. However, Cruel Intentions successfully does with Blaine Tuttle (Euan Fistrovic Doidge) and Greg McConnell (Joseph Spanti). The characters are boy band stereotypes which Doidge and Spanti portray with gleeful camp melodrama. They are the ideal juxtaposition to Weston, Burgess and Halge’s more dramatic characters. This consistent equity of the absurd and deliberate is what elevates the production.

Weston and Burgess embody the arrogance of Sebastian and Kathryn. Their on-stage rapport is electric and lays the foundation for others to excel. While Halge is suitably more understated. The characters polarising personalities are further highlighted by costume designer Isaac Lummis. His decision to dress the antagonists in darker colours and the protagonist in lighter colours is minor but significant.

Cruel Intentions captures the essence of the ’90s. It offers an ostentatious adaptation of a cult-classic tale while mocking its antiquated elements with subtlety – “Email is for geeks and paedophiles,” states Sebastian. It is a nostalgic spectacle equal parts hilarious and provocative. One you will yearn to see again.

Review By Anita Kertes

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