Support local arts reporting: read this review at Onstage NTX

Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical​ @ Stage West | May 10
Review at OnstageNTX.com by Jan Farrington

Stage West’s Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical is a jukebox show on steroids. No, on hormones—sex-drenched, runway ready, and strutting its stuff to the tunes of ‘90s pop rock. There’s almost too much to see and hear, what with the tight young bods, the glam period couture, and the songs Millennials grew up on.  

I’m still fanning myself. 

Well-off stepsiblings Kathryn (Kathryn Jacobson) and Sebastian (Ethan Massengale) are home in their absent parents’ Manhattan townhouse for the summer. These two are definitely too cool for school, and Kathryn asks Sebastian’s help in taking revenge on innocent Cecile (Logan Graye), who has “stolen" Kathryn’s former boyfriend Court (Garrett Caelan Weir). Sebastian, a legendary seducer (he even goes for his therapist’s daughter, played by Emma Colwell), agrees to take on the challenge—as a bet.

Wait? These are high school kids? Yes, but….In an amusing visual, the show lets that thought slide, more or less, until the final scenes, when everyone turns up in their school kilts and khakis. That was the joke, of course—that Roger Kumble’s 1999 movie (and now his 2015 musical, created with Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross) transformed the decadent 18th-century gentry of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (see novel, multiple movies, yada yada) into spoiled Manhattan trust fund babies living large, and loose, in the city’s toniest precincts.

The creative team—director Garret Storms, music director Cody Dry, and choreographer (plus fight/intimacy director) Kelsey Milbourn—gets the vibe exactly right, finding the dark humor and unabashed “me first” amorality of the plot lines. (The show is Stage West’s first co-production with Uptown Players in Dallas, who will run the musical in June.) And the designers have gone wild, with Luke Atkinson’s lights showcasing Bob Lavallee’s Frenchified mansion set, with gilt benches and Fragonard (ish?) panels topping the walls. 

Songs give the story its energy. (Kudos to the small but rocking band onstage: Dry on keyboards, Jesse Ramirez on guitar, Sal Bollinger on bass, Michael Ptacin on drums.) What was subtext as the movie’s background score is up front and center stage in the musical. The numbers include many from the film, plus more ‘90s hits. Naturally, the casting looked for strong singers, and found a terrific, talented group.

Jacobson, as nice-but-not-nice Kathryn, starts off with Melissa Etheridge’s torchy “I’m the Only One,” and leads the ensemble versions of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,”  and No Doubt’s “Sunday Morning.” Sebastian, that smoothie (Massengale), keeps up with her in duets of “Genie in a Bottle” (Christina Aguilera) and a mashup of “Bitch/Losing My Religion” (Meredith Brooks, R.E.M.). Gay lovers Greg (Andrew Meier) and Blaine (D’Mariel)—one is out, the other not—sing Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” and the NSYNC hit (though a ‘90s song) “Bye Bye Bye.” 

The two “surprise” couples of the plot give us something to care about. Will the eager Cecile and her cello teacher Ronald (Jonah Munroe is great) get their secret romance past her mother, the jittery, I’m-not-racist Bunny Caldwell? (Sarah Gay is a hoot.) Will Sebastian ever notice that virginal small-town-girl Annette (warmly portrayed by Hannah Valdovinos) is the only person in sight he’s “real” with? Does he want truth-telling and true love…or to win his bet with Kathryn? In life, not everything has a happy ending…but we’ve all known that for a while, right?

Cruel Intentions is bold, sexy, in-your-face, don’t-tell-your-pastor entertainment. Forget about the powdered wigs and minuets (though choreographer Milbourn throws one in for a few moments). The clothes and music are modern—but the desires and hopes are much the same, time after time.

Support local arts reporting: read this review at Onstage NTX