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Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical at The Other Palace

Is the world a better place now than it was when the motion picture Cruel Intentions was released in 1999? This stage show is an adaptation of an adaptation – the film being, as many readers will be aware, a modern version of Dangerous Liaisons (or, to give it its original French title, Les Liaisons dangereuses), first published in 1782. What it deals with – malice, seduction and revenge – are quite timeless themes, and even for a contemporary audience in the supposedly more enlightened twenty-first century, there’s much that resonates, even if the luxury living and private education of the show’s characters aren’t directly relatable to many.

Cruel Intentions: Pamela Raith Photography.
Cruel Intentions: Pamela Raith Photography.

Okay, so some of the actors (no names) technically look a tad older than the teenage school pupils they represent. And rather like Frozen (am I really comparing a Disney movie to Cruel Intentions?) the musical version stretches a film that lasts just over ninety minutes to two-and-a-half hours. But, of course, the target audience is very different, and while the song list has twenty-eight numbers in it, some of those are truncated versions. Granted, it’s a jukebox musical, although the song selections fit (or at least seem to fit) hand in glove with what is in any event a rather elaborate storyline. The tunes drive the story forward as brilliantly as they do in & Juliet, and it is to an extent about as silly as that other show too.

Where it differs from & Juliet is in its lack of revision or deviation from the movie’s plot. Having never seen the film before, I watched it out of curiosity a few days before seeing the musical – very many of the lines in the stage show’s spoken dialogue are lifted straight out of the film. This isn’t, however, a blow-by-blow (or rather blowjob-by-blowjob) replica of the movie. The opulence of the house Sebastian (Daniel Bravo) and Kathryn (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) share, by way of absent divorced parents, is largely left to the imagination.

Following a 1990s movie script with very minimal amendment means, for the uninitiated, rather shocking displays of coercive behaviour. But then, there are global majority and gay characters, plus girls kissing and boys in bed. Elsewhere, when Cecile (Rose Galbraith) discovers, thanks to Kathryn spelling it out for her, that she (Cecile) had an orgasm the previous night, she bursts into an Ace of Base song: “I saw the sign / And it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign”. Things never quite go from the ridiculous to the sublime, in a show that is often genuinely, if darkly, funny.

McCaulsky’s Kathryn was the standout for me – in a cast that had no weak links to report – with a streak of compelling mischievousness and deviousness portrayed with considerable charm. Jess Buckby’s Bunny gets a wonderful ‘wow’ moment when the uptight mother of Cecile suddenly breaks into TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’. Time and again people in the audience with substantial familiarity with 1990s chart music numbers were impressed with how the lyrics tied in with what was happening, the songs driving the story forward without feeling crowbarred in. Just don’t overanalyse the lyrics in a show that doesn’t, in any event, take itself too seriously – nobody is literally “lying naked on the floor”, as per the lyrics to Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’.

Chris Whybrow’s sound design was excellent, striking a perfect balance between the band led by Denise Crowley and the voices of the cast – I don’t think I missed a single lyric. This is a highly entertaining production with a pulsating set of pop songs given the musical theatre treatment, providing a highly enjoyable evening of surprisingly delightful escapism. In terms of storyline as well as Gary Lloyd’s energetic choreography, Blaine (Josh Barnett) and Greg (Barney Wilkinson) arguing by way of NSYNC’s ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’ complete with a boyband-like dance routine being a case in point, this isn’t a show that does things by halves. I’d see it again, and I don’t even care for chart music!

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omweng

Step-siblings Sebastian Valmont and Kathryn Merteuil, manipulative monsters flushed with their own sexual prowess, engage in a cruel bet: Kathryn goads Sebastian into attempting to seduce Annette Hargrove, the headmaster’s virtuous daughter.

Weaving a web of secrets and temptation, as the two set out to destroy an innocent girl — and anyone who gets in their way — their vengeful crusade wreaks havoc on the students at their exclusive Manhattan high school and the diabolical duo become entangled in their own web of deception and unexpected romance, with explosive results…

Josh Barnett – Blaine Tuttle/Court Reynolds
Daniel Bravo – Sebastian Valmont
Jess Buckby – Mrs. Bunny Caldwell/Dr. Greenbaum
Abbie Budden – Annette Hargrove
Rose Galbraith – Cecile Caldwell/Marci Greenbaum
Nickcolia King-N’Da – Ronald Clifford
Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky – Kathryn Merteuil
Barney Wilkinson – Greg
Nathan Lorainey-Dineen – Ensemble
Charlotte O’Rourke – Ensemble
Verity Thompson – Ensemble
Craig Watson – Ensemble

Creative Team
Director – Jonathan O’Boyle
Choreographer/Associate Director – Gary Lloyd
Musical Director – Denise Crowley
Set & Costume Designer – Polly Sullivan
Lighting Designer – Nick Richings
Sound Designer – Chris Whybrow
Associate Choreographer – Matt Nicholson
Costume Supervisor – Hugo Aguirre
Casting – Will Burton for Grindrod Burton
Created by Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble
Based on the original hit film by Roger Kumble
Originally produced by Eva Price

Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical Tickets
Booking To April 14th, 2024

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