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.
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.
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 March 16, 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