Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical - Riverside Theatres (NSW)
Presented by David Venn Enterprises. Created by Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble. Based on the film by Roer Kumble
Reviewed by Kat Pech Riverside Theatres, Parramatta
Dates: February 2nd, 2023 to February 12th, 2023
- Cruel Intentions: The 90's Musical is perfect for fans, newbies and lovers of questionable 90's taste -
I have a confession: despite being told numerous times how much I’d love it, I have never seen the movie Cruel Intentions, meaning I went into Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical completely blind, which added a whole other element to the experience, but everyone was right; I loved it.
Riverside Theatres in the heart of Parramatta is surrounded by bustling eateries, newly upgraded street seating, and has a stunning river view, as well as an excellent bar featuring speciality themed cocktails. Visiting always makes for a complete experience, and opening night of this production was no exception.
The show opened with a blast of lights so bright they hurt, and one of my personal favourite ‘90’s songs, ‘Every Me, Every You’ by Placebo. The cast was dynamic, energetic, and precise, with sharp choreography, and a focus that never dropped. There were singing moments that struck me as slightly off, with some pitchiness amongst various cast members, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall excellence. This fantastic energy and brilliant homage to the 1990’s continued throughout. The cast were wonderful and the details immaculate from costumes and wigs featuring true ‘90’s moments (Blaine’s white shell necklace was a favourite) through to era specific vocal tonality, body language, and of course, the amazing songs given a musical-theatre makeover. Cruel Intentions was a darkly hilarious 1990’s throwback.
Photo credit: Nicole Cleary
The show follows the journey of a group of teenagers caught up in a roller coaster of sex, romance, and manipulation. It takes place while their prestigious school is on summer break, with the plot driven by a wager made by charming, but awful, step-siblings Kathryn Mertuil (Kirby Burgess) and Sebastian Valmont (Drew Weston). If Sebastian manages to seduce avowed virgin Annette Hargraves, he’ll win the prize of f***ing his step-sister “in any hole”. Kathryn’s motives are more complex; her aim is to ruin the reputation of new girl Cecile Caldwell, the “innocent little twit” her ex-boyfriend dumped her for. What follows is dramatic, passionate and deeply, darkly funny, with genuinely thought-provoking moments.
Burgess is a standout amongst an excellent cast. Her character, cruel and mocking (yet somehow deeply understandable) is the driving force behind the plot, and her nuances were wonderfully brought into sharp focus. Her singing and movement was incredible (her and Ronald’s intimate dance was stunning) but it was the precision in Burgess’ facial expressions and eyes that were truly striking. Her solo stage moments were breathtaking.
The cast was dynamic, energetic, and precise, with sharp choreography, and a focus that never dropped.
Weston as Sebastian Valmont was charming, funny and disarmingly attractive - the audience swooned every time his shirt was off. However, his performance lacked a large enough contrast in his journey from certified sex addict constantly looking for the next challenge, to the young man who has finally found love. It’s tricky to say however whether this is Weston’s acting or a downfall of the show in not allowing his character more depth.
Kelsey Hague as Annette Hargraves had her doe-eyes and character journey downpat, but some songs seemed to disagree with her vocals, with moments sounding unintentionally strained, though others soared beautifully.
Supporting actors, particularly Sarah Krndija as Cecile Caldwell (the naive, boy-obsessed and eventually deflowered virgin) and Ross Chisari as the high-camp, bleach-blond Blaine provided excellent character work and the majority of laugh out loud moments, while Rishab Kern’s No Scrubs duet as cello teacher Ronald Clifford was an absolute highlight.
The set was simple yet highly effective, with lyrics scrawled via projection over the background of the walls and multiple picture-style frames, some with character portraits. The frames lit up in bold colours throughout the show; a fantastic use of lighting and staging. The set itself slid around, becoming different doorways, and revealing the excellent band in the rafters, also becoming a climbing post as needed. As my friend said “I knew as soon as I saw the set, I’d love the show”. The only furniture was a large, black velvet Chesterfield lounge, which is a focal point for many sordid goings on, and two matching chairs, powerfully used. The sound was excellent, always vivid and bold, but with a great balance between music and vocals, though the two female lead’s microphones could’ve been more powerful in contrast to their counterparts.
Overall, Riverside Theatres production of Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical was a superb experience, perfect for fans of the movie, newbies like me, and anyone who loves the 1990’s for its questionable fashion and musical hits.
Directed by Alister Smith
Musical Direction by Daniel Puckey
Choreographed by Freya List
Costume Design by Isaac Lummis
Lighting Design by Declan O'Neill