Review By Lisa Lanzi
So… a stage musical derived from a film based on a 1782 French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos celebrating manipulation, revenge and a few of the seven deadly sins. In the 80s, ‘Greed was Good’ yet the 90s, it seems, might be summed up as having to choose between the phone or the internet, grunge or pop, and bubble-gum fashion or flannels; unless you had truckloads of money and could give in to the genesis of heavy-handed marketing trends and a new breed of executives who were discovering the wisdom of targeting well-heeled teens.
Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical received great press during its USA and UK tours alongside compliments from the original film’s cast. Roger Kumble produced the book with Jordan Ross and Lindsey Rosin, Kumble being the writer and director of the original 1999 film - but wait, there’s more: it is rumoured a TV series is now in the works. David Venn Enterprises (The Wedding Singer, Bring It On: The Musical) has mounted this national tour with an all Australian triple-threat cast and it has finally reached Adelaide playing to a packed house and much cheering on opening night.
There is certainly a fine gathering of musical theatre talent on show displaying super-charged energy from leads, ensemble and elevated on-stage band. The set is very Park-Avenue-Interior in royal purple hues, with one very ‘overworked’ couch, and enhanced by superb projection design to shift location or mood, thanks to Craig Wilkinson and team Optikal Bloc. It is a blend of reality and abstraction that works well within the materialistic world on show. The device of projected, real-time animation (handwriting taken from Sebastian’s journal, the lyrics or dialogue) moving every which way across the set works well to layer and reiterate the impact of inherent deceit and manipulation. Set and lighting designers (James Browne and Declan O’Neill) have done great service to the energy and framing, while not shirking on the use of audience blinders to protect the modesty of performers at certain risqué moments. Costume designer Isaac Lummis has played with a light and dark palette to delineate character and clothes Kathryn and Sebastian in appropriately lavish style.
Drew Weston and Kirby Burgess shine as the very beautiful, privileged step-siblings Sebastian and Kathryn as they embark on their revenge plots. However the final transformations (redemption versus shame) of each character were not satisfactorily realized within the space granted by this genre. It did also seem that Burgess was experiencing some vocal fatigue toward the end of the evening. Euan Fistrovic Doidge in the role of Blaine is a focus whenever he is on stage and the pairing with Joseph Spanti (Greg) was always fun.
In her first professional role, Kelsey Halge is in fine voice as Annette Hargrove. Her acting too is exceptional and she definitely has spell as well as an assured future in musical theatre. Francine Cain has some scene stealing moments as Cecile and her exceptional experience shows in both characterization and her strong, expressive voice. Both these women are standout performers. Fem Belling stars as Mrs Caldwell and embodies the saying that ‘there are no small roles’ - it is a pleasure to watch her command the stage. Also in his first professional role, Rishab Kern is a sweet, full-voiced Ronald who delivers one of the best lines in the show.
The dialogue here is lifted straight from the film version but interspersed liberally with 90s hit songs. For the most part, musical interludes are successful in terms of plot or character reinforcement, and vastly entertaining as various generations in the audience joyfully recognize a riff or an intro. Songs including Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve), Every You and Every Me (Placebo), Bye Bye Bye (*NSYNC), Sometimes (Britney Spears), Just A Girl (No Doubt), Foolish Games (Jewel), Genie In A Bottle (Christina Aguilera), Candy (Mandy Moore), Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Deep Blue Something), Kiss Me (Sixpence None the Richer), and many more.
Now if ‘success’ might be couched in terms of audience satisfaction, this Musical certainly seems to fit the bill; it definitely capitalizes on the fascination with 90s nostalgia, rampant in recent years. It is purely escapist entertainment set to an undeniably addictive soundtrack, with some staged sexually explicit content. The direction by Alister Smith is tight and creative within the framework of the set and Freya List’s choreography is excellent, as is Daniel Puckey’s musical direction. However, the sound mix was not pleasing with vocals often overwhelmed by the band levels.
Sadly, the extreme narrative presents no recognition of the fact that in the twenty odd years since the film premiered, humans (some of us) have evolved with regard to consent, kindness, fairness and egalitarian concepts where relationships are concerned - I guess it is what it is and the lascivious tale has populist punch. Happily though, the representation of females kissing and openly gay male portrayals are both less confronting now than when the film screened. I did find myself wondering if an intimacy consultant was attached to the production and remind folks that there is a 15+ rating for the show with liberal use of the F bomb. But perhaps political correctness doesn’t have a place in the ‘suspension of disbelief world’ that the musical genre hovers within. Your choice as an audience member.