Rob Reviews "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical"
The “jukebox musical” has become quite the phenomenon in the last couple of decades. With no original music and relying on new spins on classic songs, this type of production can actually bring in a section of the population to the theater that may not have otherwise. Some focus on a certain artist like “Movin’ Out” did with Billy Joel (and a Tony-nominated one featuring the music of The Go-Go’s), while others work their songs to the story like “Rock of Ages” or even tell a story of an artist like “Beautiful” does for Carole King. Recently, I went to the Wyly Theatre Center in Dallas for another spin on the genre, as the 1999 film “Cruel Intentions” has gotten this treatment.
Using only ‘90s songs, this tells the story that is based on “Les Liaisons dangereuses” (also turned into the 1988 critically acclaimed “Dangerous Liaisons”). Sebastian Velmont (Jeffrey Kringer) and his step-sister, Kathryn Merteull (Taylor Pearlstein) are about as despicable of humans as can be found, and as they approach summer break in their private high school, they are known to spend their time racking up sexual conquests and ruining the lives of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. When a new headmaster comes to town, he brings with him a pure-of-heart-and-spirit daughter in Annette Hargrove (Betsy Stewart), so a bet is on as to whether or not Sebastian can “take her virtue” while Kathryn not only plots to destroy her ex, Greg McConnell (John Battagliese), not realizing he has his own issues, but she also works on using another debutante in Cecile Caldwell (Brooke Singer) for even more nefarious means.
As the show begins with Placebo’s “Every You Every Me,” it seemed a bit awkward given the dark, brooding tone of its source material, but it makes its statement pretty quickly that this production has its tongue so far firmly planted in its cheek that it almost pokes through. I found myself both laughing out loud and shaking my head as some of the biggest hits of the decade are woven into this VERY adult story VERY well. (I don’t really want to go into what songs are used, and in the program they are listed alphabetically by title, but you are going to be a lot better off if you just let this happens as it happens. Don’t even look at the song list until afterwards. TRUST ME ON THIS.)
This cast is nothing short of rock solid as well. Kringer resembles Ryan Phillippe very well while still owning Sebastian as his own, Pearlstein bring evil to life in Katheryn that could even make the previous portrayer in Sarah Michelle Gellar take notice, Stewart brings a vocal power that absolutely fills the room in the best possible way, and Singer goes over the top with her performance that gives a nice breath of fresh air to some material that is NOT for the quaint of heart.
I seriously cannot say enough good things about “Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical”. Well-written and absolutely wonderfully executed, my only wish is that this would get a longer run so more people can take this experience in, especially in a room like the Wyly, that fits the style of the musical (with a live three-piece band that absolutely NAILS the material) like a glove. This is wicked fun that any of us that lived through the decade that bridged one millennium to another a nice look back while still feeling fresh and relevant.