Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical (Adelaide Season) – Theatre Review

For many my age, the 90s were hugely influential to who I have become today, influenced by all things fashion and pop culture during this time. Though I was a little young to take it all in at the time, my teen years in the 2000s was infused with this 90s culture.

One of the things I loved growing up with was movies, but I would rarely go to the cinema. Instead, I would happily stroll the racks of the local video store looking for tapes to fill up my weekend with. I particularly loved teen comedies and teen movies in general, such as American Pie, 10 Things I Hate About You, and American Beauty

It wasn’t until my later teen years that I saw the film Cruel Intentions, the premise was intriguing and had me asking so many questions. But I really enjoyed Cruel Intentions back then. I remembered it being quite edgy and risqué, dealing with some interesting dynamics, so I was really interested to see how Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical would come together, and if anything, would hit the cutting room floor.

First off, the stage set up for Cruel Intentions is quite pared back compared to some musicals, with 4 tall movable pillars on the stage that are positioned in different places for different locations. With the clever use of projected art and video on these pillars, we are further transported through different New York locations throughout the show. A basic, plush black couch and some chairs also grace the stage. In a fun way, the couch is another character of the show, being pushed around during the various dance numbers, and used in many ways. It’s far more than just a set piece and found this fun and creative.

Up the back of the stage is the band, which I thought was pretty darn cool! The drummer at the bottom, and the keyboard, guitar, and bass up the top on a tall riser stage covered in lights. While not fully visible and often hidden by the moving pillars, I thought this was a really cool addition having the band up, rather than hiding them off stage.

The storyline of the musical is pretty on par with the film, following all the pivotal moments and well-known scenes of its big screen inspiration. If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows the escapades of stepsibling high schoolers Kathryn and Sebastian who plot an elaborate plan for revenge. Kathryn is seeking revenge on Cecile, the young girl who stole her boyfriend, while Sebastian has set his sights on Annette, a young woman abstaining from sex until she finds true love. But when his reputation is questioned by Annette, a roller coaster of love triangles, manipulation, deception, and heartbreak ensues.

I really love how the creators Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble have crafted this musical, using hit songs from the 90s, altering the lyrics to include the dialogue of the film, and telling this crazy story through music. Then with the addition of the fantastic choreography and stage visuals, the show becomes a feast for the eyes. It draws you in, keeps you captivated, foot tapping, and singing along to the tunes we all know and love. 

I’ve really got to say that the cast for this production is perfect! The stage is graced by fit, chiselled and well-groomed young men, and gorgeous, confident, and sexy women, which is perfect given the content of the show, and the era it comes from. Rishab Kern as Ronald and Francine Cain as Cecil put on note worthy performances. Together they provide great comedic relief to the show, but excel in their own right too. Kern has great charm, excellent vocal runs, and comedic timing, while Cain nails the ditsy innocence that the character of Cecil required, all with a surprisingly booming voice.

Drew Weston is a stellar choice to play the lead, Sebastian, with his buff body, smooth voice, and smouldering looks, he knocks it out of the park. I also really loved Kelsey Halge as Annette Hargrove, the emotion and heart in her performance is incredible, and she gelled so well with Drew on stage. While they had great chemistry, the best chemistry, in my opinion, came from Blaine and Greg, played by Euan Fistrovic Doidge and Joseph Spanti.

Together on stage, Fistrovic Doidge and Spanti are electric and funny, even as subplot cast members. One of the highlights of the show was their performance of the Backstreet Boys hit song ‘I Want it That Way’, which suited their story perfectly. I was beaming and laughing the whole way through, as were the crowd.

How could I review this show without mentioning the costumes? They were phenomenal, like someone had reached into a mid-90s Macy’s catalogue and willed them into existence. The garments were used to enhance the characters and their moods too, further adding to the experience and capturing the era of the film.

In all honesty, Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical is a big, fun, and exciting trip down memory lane. It’s chock-a-block full of nostalgia, from the outfits, the music, and the references. It blends music and choreography perfectly, with just the right amount of humour. It isn’t quite as serious as the film, but it’s true to the source material in many ways, leaving in some of the more on the nose aspects, such as slang words, which I thoroughly appreciated.

If you’ve lived through the 90s, or early 00s, you will love this musical. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical is gracing Her Majesty’s Theatre stage in Adelaide until September 24.
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Photography by Nicole Cleary.

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