by Adam Cohen
Pop culture has fueled many a debate as to what is entertainment. The entirety of attitudes, ideas, images, and perspectives are reflected and (re)cycled in art, theater, and music. Here a French epistolary novel from 1782 – – is transformed into a 1999 movie set in an upper crust New York high school; and now a musical – utilizing the film’s script and “classic” songs from the 1990s. And it all works as savvy, engaging, fun pop culture entertainment.
Well-cast, beautifully sung, fun, and funny – Cruel Intentions: The Musical works on every level. Broadly entertaining, fans and new comers will absolutely be entranced as the usage of song – enhances characterizations and wryly comments on the situations.
Written and directed by Roger Kumble, the film and musical focus on the students of an elite private high school. Annette (Carrie St. Louis) unwittingly becomes a pawn in stepsibling Sebastian’s (Constantine Rousouli) and Kathryn’s (Lauren Zakrin) deliciously diabolical wager of sexual conquest. Annette’s crafts an article for Seventeen Magazine discussing her intention to remain pure until marriage. However, Sebastian gets more than he bargained for as he attempts to woo Annette into his bed – learning the drama of true love. Kathryn wants to get revenge on Cecile, the naive classmate Kathryn’s ex-boyfriend dumped her for. They make a bet—if Sebastian fails to deflower Annette, Kathryn gets his expensive car. If Sebastian succeeds, he gets to have sex with Kathryn, the one woman he can’t have. To quote a line from the film (and the musical), “there’s some fucked up shit in this house.”
The love story between Blaine Tuttle (Alex Boniello) and Greg McConnell (Brian Muller), who were only minor characters in the film get a more fully realized storyline here – forming a Greek chorus ready to use song to comment on the action. Everyone’s a pawn in Sebastian and Kathryn’s game through seduction, blackmail and well placed usage of pop songs like Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle”, Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch”, REM, *NSynch and the Back Street Boys.
Jennifer Weber’s witty choreography echoes typical 90s music video movement and is perfectly executed by the agile cast. Lindsey Rosin’s direction is strong – brisk, with deft characterization choices, wise-musical selection, and astute casting. The song choice is apt and each number is distinctive, especially in the hands of these expressive, supremely talented cast members. The insertion of the thematically appropriate pop songs causes the audience to break into laughter, cheers, and sadly sing-along. Every number is a stand out. Zach Spound’s musical supervision is perfect.
The cast is uniformly great – feeding off the audience’s energy and having fun. Patricia Richardson is featured in the adult roles. I didn’t realize she was a singer but apparently she was in Gypsy on Broadway and here she is gamely diving into the proceedings. Jessie Shelton is brilliant in the comedic ingénue role bringing much physical comedy and pliant facials. Zakrin sings beautifully and is a tremendous vixen – seductive and sly – completely embodying a strong character. Rousouli is also a strong singer, and nicely conveys his character’s arc – especially his noble end. Matthew Griffin makes a strong impression as one of the innocent victims of the game.
Cruel Intentions the Musical works on every level – especially providing two fun hours of escapist, winking, knowing, fun. You don’t need to be a fan of the film to enjoy the show. Book tickets – bring friends, ex-lovers, potential lovers, and see revenge most sweet.
Photos: Jenny Anderson
Tickets and more information at cruelmusical.com
(le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street)