Review by Rowan Brunt
It is becoming more and more common for cult films to be given the musical theatre treatment bringing the nostalgia and those well worn film albums to the stage. We have seen varied levels of success with some stand outs being Heathers: The Musical and recent to Melbourne's stages Moulin Rouge. Cruel Intentions the 90’s Musical, as title promises, has a classic jukebox musical format that takes all the songs we loved from the film and throws them onto stage.
The original 1999 film Cruel Intentions, adapted from the Pierre Cholderlos de Laclos book “Les Liasisons Dangereuses” (Dangerous Liasions) is a story of manipulation, secrets and temptation following Sebastian and Kathyrn Hargaves, Manhattans youthful elite, as they spin a web of revenge and passion all for a wager. Are you ready to make your wager?
David Venn Enterprises presents Cruel Intentions the 90’s Musical at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne which opened 26th May, promises a “night out for a 90’s throwback”, of which they do not disappoint. Featuring all the favourite songs from the film like “Bittersweet Symphony”, “Every You, Every Me”, with some 90’s classics like *NYSNC “Bye, Bye, Bye” and Mandy Moores “Candy”. As every song began the audience reacted with such excitement, cheering and practically leaping from their chairs before the performers even got to their first lyric.
Director Alister Smith has expertly kept the show high pace, each scene snappy to the point and with expert characterisation. Freya List’s delicious choreography is soft and sensual at times showing the built up teen sexual tension but also sharp and hard hitting in moments of angst. Though not scripted or featured much, the ensemble are deployed expertly and wholeheartedly embody List choreography perfectly creating the atmosphere for the major action.
The shows music is the major draw card and musical director Daniel Puckey has curated such a tight, energetic and positively sexy band, not to mention impressive ensemble vocals lending themselves to the soaring voices of our leads.
The set design by James Browne, video design by Craig Wilkinson and lighting design by Declan O’Neill are wonderfully incorporated and balanced. The imagery throughout the show of Sebastian's journals and song lyrics projected onto moving set pieces are effective and add to the 90’s nostalgia of teen magazines and vividness of Rage-esque music videos.
Kirby Burgess plays Kathyrn Hargrave with such complexity to her bite and portrayal, playing every card to ensure she wins at all costs, leaving nothing left on the stage. Burgess vocals are smooth when she needs them, oozing seduction and absolutely belts it out of the park at other times, with particular highlights power ballads “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover” and “Genie in a Bottle”. Burgess is a powerhouse that you cannot turn away from.
Drew Weston is the devilish Sebastian, with a cheekiness that charms anyone to his will, with steady pop vocals that are as sleek as the Hargrave boy himself.
Making her professional stage debut, Kelsey Halge was a perfect casting choice for Annette Hargove originally made famous by Reese Witherspoon. There is a strength of conviction and also a vulnerability to the sweetheart that steers from what could have been an archetypal performance. Halge absolutely stunning vocal prowess is shown off in “Just a Girl” at the top of the show and from that moment on the audience falls in love.
Absolutely stealing the show is Francine Cain as the quirky and playful Cecile Caldwell, taking every advantage in the show to showcase her comedic skills and grabbing focus that left the audience hollering for more. The top of Act Two’s succession of Cecile’s songs could have been an entire show in itself!
One can not ignore the smooth vocal runs and soaring notes of Euan Fistrovic Doidge as the cocky teen Blaine who expertly takes on the 90’s hits and runs with them in a way that is so natural he could have written the vocal lines himself.
Where Cruel Intentions the 90’s Musical hits all the marks on the music, where it falls down is the story from the original film. What cannot be ignored is the 90’s societal views on queer sexuality, female empowerment, racism and consent. There are a few times in the show which are jarringly outdated, which asks the question why was this not edited for a modern audience back in 2015 and why are we perpetuating these point of views? If there was more focus on highlighting these moments not as moments of slapstick comedy but allowing the audience to see these moments as a reflection of how things were and why they are not the same we could have had these moments as commentry not been skimmed over.
Cruel Intentions the 90’s Musical has such an infectious score that you will be singing the pop hits for days and the wonderfully talented cast and creatives can only be commended for a raucous and risque night out.
Cruel Intentions the 90’s Musical plays at Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne until 25 June 2022 before starting a national tour.
Image Credit: David Venn Enterprises