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Review: Cruel Intentions - The 90’s Musical at HOTA

Review by Regan Baker

Sex, drugs and 90’s pop. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as crisply as the more famous phrase, but that’s what I had to look forward to on my long drive down the M1 to the Home of the Arts Theatre on the beautiful Gold Coast for Cruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical.

Having grown up in Brisbane in the early 90’s, I am as close to the dictionary definition of a 90’s baby as they come. Bad haircuts, jean shorts, dancing around the house with a Walkman and a broom to Shania Twain – I did it all. To mis-quote Bane from the Batman franchise, “You merely adopted the 90’s. I was born in it. Moulded by it. I didn’t see how crap that haircut was until I was already a man.” So when I say that my expectations of a 90’s musical are high – you better believe it!

Hitting the stage for the first time back in 2015 as an unauthorised off-Broadway production, Cruel Intentions picked up support faster than our beloved lead, Sebastian, picks up chicks. Little did the musical creators, Jordan Ross and Lindsey Rosin, know that in the audience of their first preview performance was the original film writer and Director Roger Kumble. Rather than kicking up a stink, as history would dictate is the norm, Kumble threw his support behind the project and helped make it the huge success that it is today. Having played for audiences across the US and UK, Cruel Intentions has been at home in Australia since May 2022, touring Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, with return seasons in Sydney and Melbourne already on the cards.

A large part of the charm of this smash-hit musical lies in its simplicity. The set consists of four two-storey high wall panels that move and dance around the stage almost as much as the cast. Various locations are framed in different ways utilising these wall panels, and at times they expose the back of the set where the band plays among scaffolding and can bask in the spotlight for a moment or two. With the addition of a 2.5-seater couch and a few other small bits and bobs, most of the story is told through dialogue and action. The direction by Alister Smith and choreography by Freya List blended perfectly together on stage creating seamless transition from dialogue to dance number.

The lighting design by Declan O’Neill was perfectly curated to suit the era, as well as creating a colour-scape that was reminiscent of a 90’s high school dance, oozing with sexual tension. In a show that is almost flawless, my one pet-peeve is the blinding floodlights used in the climactic moments of the shows that make everyone sitting in front of them wince, or cover their eyes. These moments are the crescendo of the show, and I want to bask in their climax – not avert my eyes because the light is simply too bright!

In their leading roles, Kirby Burgess (Kathryn) and Drew Weston (Sebastian) seemed right at home weaving their webs of lies and manipulations to get what they desired. Their on stage chemistry and kind of creepy lust for each was superb, and their deep seeded insecurities were strongly evident through their actions. In her professional theatre debut, Kelsey Halge delivered a sweet and mature Annette Hargrove who was vocally refined and a solid performer. She had beautiful control, and her innocent schoolgirl characterization was executed in a believable, fun, and engaging manner.

Those that saw Cruel Intentions at the Fortitude Music Hall early last year would note that we have ourselves our new Cecile Caldwell for the 2023 season in Sarah Krndija. Her interpretation of the rough around the edges Cecile was comical, yet believable, as someone who is naïve and innocent in the world of dating. Her bubbly personality broke through the complicated character and gave Cecile an added element of depth that I had been left longing for after the 2022 season. Another new addition to this seasons tour is Ross Chisari who stole the show in the role of the hilariously camp Blaine Tuttle. While only a smaller role in the overall context of the story, Chisari’s execution of the cooky teen Blaine was superb in every way, and left the audiences in stitches every time he took to the stage. His raunchy humour and suggestive hints of depravity were perfectly timed and combined with his over the top interpretation of a 90’s gay man created a likeable and refreshing character.

Rounding out the lead cast were Joseph Spanti as the closeted high school jock Greg McConnell, and Fem Belling as the up-tight and slightly overprotective Mrs. Caldwell. Both suited their roles well and did a stand-up job of interpreting complex emotions that radiated through their vocal prowess.

Whether you were a fan of R.E.M, the Backstreet Boys, N’SYNC, Christina Aguilera, The Goo Goo Dolls, or one of many other 90’s artists, Cruel Intentions packs more pop hits into a 2-hour show than RAGE did on a Saturday morning. This review comes from my third and forth viewings of the show and yet I would still go back next week and see it again for a fifth or even sixth time. An unbelievable, dance in your seat performance!

Image Credit: Nicole Cleary


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