Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical

Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, Roger Kumble
Bill Kenwright Ltd
The Other Palace

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The Cast of Cruel Intentions Credit: Pamela Raith
Rose Galbraith, Abbie Budden and Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky Credit: Pamela Raith
Nickcolia King-N’da and Jess Buckley Credit: Pamela Raith

The 1990s are back in vogue this year, with fashions revisited and anniversaries brought to the fore. Fitting, then, that Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical, after a short run in Edinburgh, finds a home at The Other Palace, a venue nicely sandwiched between Buckingham Palace and Victoria Street.

Moreover, 2024 is the 25th anniversary of Roger Kumble's film, Cruel Intentions (1999), inspired and loosely based on the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782)—which had in turn been adapted more faithfully in other versions for stage and screen. The Other Palace's site, by coincidence, has roots dating back to the late 1700s.

Indeed, the epistolary theme of the original novel is echoed in the use of letters here as vehicles for machinations driven by the jealous and desiring natures of bored high-school step-siblings Kathryn (a star-turn from Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, recently Catherine of Aragon in Six) and Sebastian (Daniel Bravo, evoking a young Nick Carter from The Backstreet Boys). Kathryn (the main instigator in the wrecking of others' reputations) and Sebastian will celebrate their winnings by sleeping with each other in a part of the plot that seems slightly dated, even though the '90s seem close. But no matter: we are mainly here for the evocation of a '90s vibe which is joyous and infectious.

Conquests engineered by the pair mainly involve innocent Annette (in a fine debut from Abbie Budden) whose advertisement in Seventeen Magazine promoting chastity sparks proceedings; and the deflowering of the maidenly Cecile. In this role, Rose Galbraith exemplifies the largely sung-through production's strength in matching song choice to the narrative glue in-between—permitting transitions that are seamless and often witty (Galbraith's launch into "The Sign" a case in point).

Each performer in this small, young cast seems cherry picked for talent thanks to Will Burton's casting, meaning that everyone deserves the mention here that space denies. Suffice to say that Josh Barnett is delightful as Blaine; and praise to Jess Buckby (Bunny) for her "No Scrubs".

Sound is well-judged (not overly loud) with a small band of live musicians behind the Manhattan skyline backdrop offering authenticity. The small auditorium (approximately 300 full capacity) is steeply raked, which means that every seat surrounding the horseshoe-shaped stage (graced with simply one chaise longue) bodes well for a clear view.

The typical audience might be imagined to be Millennials for whom '90s music was a cultural backdrop, but, if press night is any indication, the show will enjoy a cross-generational pull, with reservations only for those easily offended by profanities and intimate references (not updated, as for the movie remake of Mean Girls), and perhaps not for those under 14.

Overall, great fun—and a fine tribute to the late Bill Kenwright. If it's not 'lame' to say so, I envisage the show garnering a loyal fanbase during its run, if it hasn't already.

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler

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