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Cruel Intentions: The Musical

A well-mounted jukebox musical based on the 1999 teen drama.  It’s best appreciated by those of the right age nostalgic for the music of their youth.

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Lauren Zakrin as Kathryn and Constantine Rousouli as Sebastian in a scene from “Cruel Intentions: The Musical” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

This well-mounted jukebox musical is packed with 1990’s pop songs and faithfully replicates the 1999 teen drama, Cruel Intentions for the stage.  It’s best appreciated by those of the right age nostalgic for the music of their youth.  Anyone else would most likely find it at best a passable diversion. The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” gets a lot of mileage.

Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Counting Crows’ “Colorblind,” Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One,” Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch,” “R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” and a Backstreet Boys medley including “I Want it That Way” are among the totemic compositions performed in this hit parade.

As Rock of Ages did for the 1980’s, Cruel Intentions: The Musical does for the 1990’s. This is a carefree entertainment accompanied by the revelry incited by a two-item minimum in a nightclub. For many audience members, the Proustian pleasure of experiencing songs that they fondly recall shoehorned into the plot from a minor movie they might remember will suffice.  It’s decidedly not an event for musical theater connoisseurs.

Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble’s script (based on Kumble’s screenplay) is an efficient and cheeky treatment with an abundance of erection jokes and sly, sexual innuendo.  This enduring subject matter is derived from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th century epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses.  Playwright Christopher Hampton’s stage and his subsequent screen adaptation Dangerous Liaisons were both popular in the 1980’s. Here, the sensual intrigue and psychological gamesmanship now take place amidst spoiled teenagers inhabiting Manhattan’s glamorous Upper East Side.

Jessie Shelton as Cecile, Patricia Richardson as Cecile’s mother and Lauren Zakrin as Kathryn in a scene from “Cruel Intentions: The Musical” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

The jaded duo of Kathryn Merteuil (the Sarah Michelle Gellar role) and her step-brother Sebastian (the Ryan Phillippe role) amuse themselves by plotting wicked sexual conquests on their circle of friends. A major occurrence is the seduction of the virginal Cecile (the Reese Witherspoon role).  Also enmeshed in the machinations are an out gay compatriot and a closeted, gay football player.

Striding onstage to start the show, clad in black jeans with a stylish black coat over a gray athletic shirt showcasing his exceptionally athletic physique is Constantine Rousouli as Sebastian.  With his chiseled features and spiky hair, Mr. Rousouli surely looks the part. Rousouli’s appealing hoarse vocal delivery and singing, charisma and fluid physical presence make him the show’s anchor.  He briefly appears semi-nude from the back in a swimming pool scene.

As Kathryn, Lauren Zakrin is commandingly saucy.  The talented Ms. Zakrin throw herself full-throttle into the material while encased in a black corset, black slacks and a red bustier.

Carrie St. Louis, Jessie Shelton, Alex Boniello, Brian Muller and Matthew Griffin comprise the lively company and all of them deliver spunky characterizations.  In the Christine Baranski role of Cecile’s shrewish mother, Patricia Richardson is delightfully campy.

Matthew Griffin as Ronald and Jessie Shelton as Cecile in a scene from “Cruel Intentions: The Musical” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

The stage is bare and set up concert-style with the musicians in view and a short runway in the center leading out to the audience.  Carolyn Mraz’s prop design artfully supplies everything that’s needed.

Rosin’s direction is suitably vigorous and has the actors at times appearing in areas of the audience for visual variety.  Jennifer Weber’s choreography is a bracing series of sequences that are fun to watch.

Sound designer Robert Bradley amps up the musical performances for optimum effect without becoming overpowering. James Kolditz’s lighting design has a cinematic moodiness alternating with crisp brightness with a burst of strobes for the climactic duel.

Besides the sexy ensembles for the two leading characters, costume stylist Tilly Grimes’ witty selections include a suggestive school girl uniform and appropriate street clothes.

In Cruel Intentions: The Musical, the song is the thing. 

Cruel Intentions: The Musical (extended through  April 8, 2018)

Eva Price and Sucker Love Productions

(le) Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, in Manhattan

For tickets visit http://www.CruelMusical.com

Running time: two hours with one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (562 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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