Should movies be turned into musicals? Well, after Back to the Future: The Musical I did wonder if it was a good idea to take a well-known and much-loved film and bring it to the stage as a musical. So, I was intrigued to know how things were going to turn out with the latest such show to his London as Cruel Intentions The ’90s Musical opened at The Other Palace.
Set in Manhattan in the 1990s, the story concerns Sebastian Valmont (Daniel Bravo) and his stepsister Kathryn Merteuil (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky). They are young, devastatingly attractive, rich and have very engaging personalities. Unfortunately, they have chosen to use their powers for evil rather than good and there is nothing the duo like more than to destroy someone that has, somehow, offended them. This summer there are two such victims on the horizon for the pair. The first is Kathryn’s choice, Cecile Caldwell (Rose Galbraith), daughter of wealthy social climber Mrs. Bunny Caldwell (Jess Buckby). Cecile herself has done nothing to anger Kathryn apart from being herself and be the girl Kathryn was dumped for. The second ‘foe’ is Sebastian’s Annette Hargrove (Abbie Budden) a girl who, unlike many of her contemporaries, believes sex should be linked with love and not just an act by itself. Her father is taking over as headmaster of the school where Kathryn and Sebastian are Seniors, and Sebastian believes it will be his crowning moment if he can seduce her before the start of term. As Cecile takes cello lessons from her teacher Ronald Clifford (Nickcolia King-N’Da) and Annette relaxes at Sebastians’s aunt’s summer residence, the two siblings make a bet, one that is both evil and has the potential to change their lives, Cecile, Annette and their classmates in ways none of them could ever imagine.
So, first things first, was Cruel Intentions The ’90s Musical another Back to the Future where I left the theatre wondering why they had made a musical out of the film? Definitely No! If anything, I left the theatre wondering why the original movies hadn’t been a musical in the first place, it worked so well. The story, and original movie are a loose modern-day version of the 1782 French novel ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and has quite a complex structure that not only translates well to the stage but is really given an extra level of life thanks to the inclusion of songs by Placebo, Christina Aguilera, Garbage and my absolute favourite (both in the film and show) “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve. The show is a faithful recreation of the movie, with much of the original script being brought into the show. No surprise really when the book is by Roger Kumble (writer and director of the original film), Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross. Ok, I’m not going to talk about the movie anymore. Well, once more thing. I loved the way that the story expanded the relationship between Blaine (Josh Barnett) and Greg (Barney Wilkinson) to give these characters more flesh than they had on celluloid.
So, I loved the story. What about the delivery? And my goodness this is a very strong cast. The two leads really make Sebastian and Kathryn buzz. They are a perfect mixture of sexuality and arrogance along with an (very fake) affability which makes it obvious why everyone either adores them or wants to sleep with them. Even when preying on someone’s weakness and extorting them to go along with a plan, they have an affability mixed with coldness that ensures they get what they want. Both characters look perfect in Polly Sullivan’s designer outfits, and by golly, both can sing. In fact, Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky’s rendition of ‘Kathryn’s Turn’ in the second act nearly brought the house down. McCaulsky and Bravo lead a cast devoid of any weak links as they add Gary Lloyd’s direction and choreography to the story. The set is fairly limited with only a beautiful chaise and candelabra representing the opulence of Kathryn and Sebastian’s home. Having the band, under MD Denise Crowley, above the stage in front of a very recognizable New York skyline gave the director an extra level which was used to great effect particularly by Kathryn and Sebastian as they observe the events they have engineered.
Harking back to the movie for a moment I did wonder how they would be able to pull off the final scenes – if you know, you know – but I needn’t have worried. They were perfectly put together and the final denouement was superbly done, drawing the audience both physically and emotionally into, well obviously I can’t tell you what but believe me, it was awesome.
And that sums up Cruel Intentions The ’90s Musical perfectly for me. I’m not always a fan of making jukebox musicals out of films, but this production has shown that it can be done and done with style and panache so that it improves the original. As the show finished the audience leapt to its feet with a roar, beginning a long-standing ovation that the cast are going to be getting used to throughout the run.
Review by Terry Eastham
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
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