A narrative devolving into song and dance has never made sense to me in the same way that wizards, witches, and warlocks don’t. But when I got the opportunity to see a musical based on my debauched, late-90s pop-culture upbringing, I threw my ass in the jackpot.
Cruel Intentions The ’90s Musical is a jukebox musical — a performance that uses previously released popular songs as its musical score. I was unfamiliar with this term as a sane person who systematically avoids such tomfoolery. But as a scholar of Cruel Intentions the movie, I knew I had to put aside my prejudgments so I could police the use of the source material — a difficult task, considering I’d be watching a musical, based on a movie, based on an 18th-century French novel that I have never read. This would be the exact moment my two years of blood, sweat, and high school theater prepared me for.
The show opens with me waiting at the Byham’s bar for a sippy cup of gin and tonic and Sebastian (Jeffrey Kringer) at his therapist’s office. After the session, his therapist discovers that Sebastian has posted pictures of her daughter on the internet — and we’re not talking headshots here, if you catch my drift.
The musical moves briskly through the exposition, paralleling the movie quite nicely and inserting ’90s chart-topper after chart-topper, sometimes a bit too forcefully, into the narrative often connecting dialogue and action to specific song lyrics. While the song selection was sometimes anachronistic, especially NSYNC’s "Bye Bye Bye," the vocal execution of the cast on top of the air-tight live backing band more than made up for any inconsistencies.
The cast, whose performances seemed a bit too tongue-in-cheek at the beginning, convincingly won the hearts and minds of the audience by intermission, especially the crowd favorite — naive underdog Cecile played by a charmingly manic Brooke Singer. Taylor Pearlstein’s portrayal of the hyper-sexual and conniving Kathryn made audience members shift in their seats and laugh to cut the tension. Kringer’s Sebastian was impressively accurate, right down to the exposed-buttocks scene, and Betsy Stewart maintained Annette’s holier-than-thou persona up until the climax, which in this production is both figurative and literal.
While the combination of serious narrative and oft-slapstick song and dance can be a distraction, Cruel Intentions The ’90s Musical awoke a musical fandom hiding somewhere within me. The beginnings of numbers I had met with eye rolls, typically concluded with an awkward smile on my face and a mix of emotions I’ll need to schedule an appointment with Sebastian’s therapist to deal with.