Review By Regan Baker
Christina Aguilera may have put a Genie in a Bottle, but Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble have put my entire childhood in a bottle in this 90’s smash hit musical. Featuring retro banger after banger from the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, TLC, Shania Twain, R.E.M, the Goo Goo dolls, Natalie Imbruglia and so many more, there was something to love for everybody in ‘Cruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical.’
The Fortitude Music Hall has quickly become one of my favourite Brisbane venues with its four large bars, high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, and a vintage New York City vibe throughout. Perfectly situated in the heart of Fortitude Valley, this chic venue has beautifully filled the void left behind by the closure of Brisbane’s Festival Hall some 16 years prior to its opening and has played host to some of the biggest names in the local and international music scenes. Now, it’s playing host to one of the fastest growing off-Broadway musicals of the decade that features a stellar cast, a live rock band and more sexual tension than a grade 11 high school dance.
Walking into the main theatre hall the pre-show set was a marvel to behold. While very simple in its actual construction, just six large frames resembling the two-storey walls of a building, they were emblazoned with projected scribe that danced across their face. In addition of a 2.5-seater couch, these six large frames would be the only set elements in the show, with their movement into different floorplans representing the shift between scenes. The real handiwork in setting the scene came from projected images, movie clips and text that covered the walls throughout the show, a fine demonstration of 3D projection mapping by Craig Wilkinson.
Lighting throughout the performance by Declan O’Neill was beautifully controlled and the colourscapes he created suited the era and the emotions of the scene unfolding. My only bugbear of the entire performance was during the crescendo moments of the story when large, audience-facing floodlights were cranked to the maximum and blinded absolutely everyone. I’ve got pretty good eyesight for my age and can withstand a lot of harsh light (I don’t wear sunglasses – ever), so if even I’m having to shut my eyes and look away – the light is too bright – way too bright.
Director Alister Smith has done a marvellous job of bringing this story to life on the stage. From controlled, thoughtful movements among the set pieces, to the casting choices and strong personalities he has formed for the characters. Alongside highly decorated and versatile Choreographer Freya List, this story of entangled secrets, lies, temptations and love unfolds in an entertaining, dance-in-your-seat fashion that left wide smiles on our faces the entire evening.
Kirby Burgess and Drew Weston were brilliant in their leading roles as the manipulative stepsiblings Kathryn and Sebastian. Burgess danced beautifully between her façade as a sweet, innocent, Christian role model, to the coked-up, sex-addicted spin doctor that she actually was. She was seductive, she was funny and her constant plotting and toying against Sebastian was executed with finesse. Weston similarly weaved his way around his two personalities with superb implementation. He was a very believable ‘stud’ that used his dashing good looks and ripped body to seduce infatuated and naïve classmates, but switched brilliantly in presenting a softer side as he himself became infatuated with his latest target, Annette.
Speaking of Annette, professional theatre debutant Kelsey Halge portrayed the role with fiendish intelligence and innocence. Her acting abilities are undeniable, and she did a spectacular job in juggling the complexities of morality and desire as Sebastian began his seduction of her. While her vocal strength was impressive and most of her numbers were executed flawlessly, there were a couple of songs that weren’t perfectly suited to her range and left a little to be desired.
The role of Cecile Caldwell was executed brilliantly by Francine Cain, who gave us a naïve, bubbly and easily impressionable schoolgirl. Cecile is rough around the edges and highly sociable, and Cain’s interpretation of the character gave me vibes of what Karen from Will and Grace would have been like in her earlier days.
Euan Fistrovic Doidge was vocally brilliant and his delivery of the shy music tutor, Blaine Tuttle was without fault. Joseph Spanti and Rishab Kern were hilariously camp as Greg McConnell and Ronald Clifford, respectively, and were intentionally written to be the main comic relief of the show, which they delivered – time and time again. While their love story wasn’t meant to be the focus of the show, it was certainly the one the audience were rooting for as their closeted love affair was hard to not fall in love with.
Fem Belling as Mrs. Caldwell presented us with a firm, but loving mother who just wanted what was best for her daughter. While only a small part of the story, Belling was a lot of fun to watch on stage and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of her considering her extensive West End performing history.
The ensemble of Sheridan Adams, Darcey Eagle, Daniel Erbacher, Morgan Heynes and Etuate Lutui were spectacular in filling the stage with movement and vocal atmosphere and truly added to the performance, making it the phenomenon that it was. It should also be mentioned that in these COVID times each of the ensemble were cast as understudies for at least two or three of the leading roles, which is a significant undertaking, and they all deserve high regards for their continued efforts.
While not a traditional theatre per say, the Fortitude Music Hall was the perfect rock and roll venue to host ‘Cruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical’ as it delivered brilliant sound and a musical performance that will be remember for years to come.