Cruel Intentions : The '90s Musical

For those too young to remember, "Cruel Intentions" is a movie from 1999. Although this is a standalone show, I feel compelled to draw some comparisons. As the show starts, we hear an announcement from what sounds like Sarah Michelle Gellar, who originated the role of Kathryn in the film. It explicitly states she's the OG, so it could well be her. This announcement sets the tone for the show, making jokes about the 'other' Palace and insulting your phone.

Straight out the gate, I have to say I can see this show polarizing the audience; you'll either love it or hate it. While the film is tragic, the musical is a comedy highlighted by the naïve adolescent choreography of Gary Lloyd, including heads popping out from the scenery, ‘Genie in a Bottle’ hand actions, and ending more than one solo with one finger pointing towards the sky.

This is a young cast full of energy and love for the show, which clearly translates to the audience. Two of the leads are making their professional debuts. One is Rose Galbraith in the role of Cecile Caldwell. Wow, for such a classic role in the film, not only did she do a fantastic job of replicating the qualities of the character, but she also somehow made it her own with some amazing moments of comedy and beautifully timed songs. Her talent is really blossoming and is no doubt one to keep your eyes on.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle has somehow changed the genre, making this a coming-of-age comedy. Every song in the first act is greeted with whoops and laughter from the audience. One of the standout moments for me was ‘Wannabe,’ which I gather was a late addition to the show. Josh Barnett as Blaine and Barney Wilkinson as Greg absolutely smashed this number, bringing the choreography and song to life like you could not even imagine. I will say, whoever changed the ‘Spartacus’ reference to ‘The Birdcage’ did not get the reference.

 ‘No Scrubs’ performed by Jess Buckby as Bunny Caldwell and Nickcolia King-N’Da as Ronald, while both very talented performers, this number is an iconic moment on many levels and did amaze me.

While talking about the character Bunny Caldwell, I should give a warning here that in the age we are living in and your viewpoint, you might find the film, as the show, a little problematic. The character Bunny Caldwell is a racist, towards Ronald but not Kathryn, which left me a little confused. There are also homophobic slurs used. Interestingly, these are not the same words used in the film, but talking to other patrons in the interval, they still took offence. Within the context of the show, based on a movie 25 years ago, I think they did a great job of capturing that period of time.

The two remaining leading ladies are Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, giving a fantastic performance as Kathryn with some incredible solos; then Abbie Budden, making her professional debut as Annette Hargrove, she was confident, charismatic, and full of talent.

I loved the moment at the end where they are handing out the photocopies of the journal. For me, this works so much better than the movie, as a cast member shouted out something along the lines of "this is a copy of Sebastian's journal" in amazement as they pass the photocopies out to the audience, immersing us in the action and distracting us from the events on stage.

In my opinion, Daniel Bravo in the role of Sebastian is played too macho. This is clearly a deliberate choice, as there is the added uncomfortable ‘blow job’ moment showing him to be cruel. In the film, the role is played more as a frustrated teen displaying traits associated with Asperger's, looking for the next challenge. This choice made it hard for the audience, and indeed the leading ladies to connect with the character or feel anything for him.

In the film, Sebastian's character arc is complete in the moment he sacrifices himself to save Annette. On stage, they do a wonderful job creating the tension and the accident; however, she is only a bystander, no danger or save.  

Throughout the show, there is great use of the revolve stage. I would have loved to have seen it used to help bring the iconic escalator moment to life.

Overall, if you want a fun, lively, '90s camp, comical adaptation of Cruel Intentions, you are going to love this. You can put it anywhere, on tour or in the West End. It could be the next cult classic, and I’m in love. Five stars.

This show was reviewed on the 19th January 2024.  Cruel Intentions : The '90s Musical runs at The Other Palace until the 14th April 2024.  Tickets available here: Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical - The Other Palace Theatre

Review written by Valentine Gale-Sides

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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