Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical | Review
Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for a 25-year-old film.
Back in 1999, amidst the height of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy fame, and in an era where movies like Wild Things and Basic Instinct were redefining female sexuality, a film emerged that captivated teenagers globally. Cruel Intentions was more than just a movie; it was a phenomenon. Its blend of sex, drugs, and mind games, set to an unforgettable soundtrack and brought to life by some of the most iconic young actors of the time, turned it into a cult classic.
As a fervent fan of the film, who was eighteen at its release and squarely in its target demographic, I approached Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical with a mix of excitement and apprehension. The fact that it was a jukebox musical also gave me pause – these can really be hit or miss. Anyone remember the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever? No? Didn’t think so. My concerns, however, were quickly allayed; this musical is a love letter to the original film and to the 90s music that we love and some love to hate. Not only is the script almost word-for-word identical to the film, but the songs – some of which are straight from the soundtrack and some of which took me completely by surprise in the most delightful way – were not, as I’d feared, randomly stuck in amongst the dialogue as some jukebox musicals do but in fact were perfectly placed, each one moving the narrative forward and every time eliciting a laugh or squeals of delight from the audience, as we realised what the song was and how perfectly chosen it was for that moment.
I don’t want to tell you what the songs are because not knowing what to expect made it that much better as each classic tune began. In fact, I urge you not to look at the song list in the programme until after and allow yourself the surprise that I experienced throughout. As you can tell, I loved the music, but I haven’t even mentioned the performances.
Filling the shoes previously filled by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair is no mean feat, but the cast more than rises to the occasion. In the role of the sexy, devious “villain” of the piece, Kathryn, Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky performed spectacularly. Coming from playing another Catherine (of Aragon) in Six: The Musical, she clearly was going to have an incredible voice (as was demonstrated right from the start) and she exuded the confidence and lack of give-a-shit essential to playing this role. The malice which was behind her every glance, sneer, and eye roll was palpable – she was the perfect Kathryn.
Although he was clearly chosen in part because of his resemblance to the character from the film, Daniel Bravo played his character with all the suave and confidence of his onscreen incarnation, and even managed to nail that American upper-class drawl that tells you both that he has money and that he doesn’t care one bit about anyone else. His performance of Sebastian’s journey of self-discovery from apathy to love moved me to laughter and tears.
Rose Galbraith’s Cecile perfectly played up the innocence and ignorance of her character, and at times, although you wanted to feel sorry for her, you almost felt embarrassed for the scenes that you were witnessing as she played the hapless plaything of Sebastian and Kathryn. Abbie Budden, as Annette, was definitely channelling her inner Reese Witherspoon (my favourite from the original movie) and her love story with Sebastian was believable and heartbreaking. A particular song by an Australian artist, sung by Sebastian and Annette, was beautifully performed, giving insight to the internal struggle that both characters are grappling with.
I have to mention Jess Buckby who played Cecile’s mother, and at 32 is the oldest member of the cast, for her brilliant comedic performance. She has a song at one point with her daughter’s beau, Ronald – a sterling performance by Nickcolia King-N-Da – and it’s probably the funniest moment in a show full of funny moments. Buckby played older than her years so well, and between her snobbery and Cecile’s childishness, it was easy to accept her as the mother despite there only being 8 years between the actors.
Josh Barnett as Blaine, the gay friend of Sebastian, was a lot of fun and I enjoyed how they made the role more prominent and allowed him and ‘The Gregster’ – hilariously performed by Barney Wilkinson – to have a lot more fun with their parts (in all senses of the phrase) than the 1999 Hollywood movie would allow. The addition to their scene of a British 90s iconic tune, especially for the London production, is genius and had me nearly very literally rolling in the aisle with laughter.
The set, designed by Polly Sullivan, was more than just a backdrop for the actors; it was a dynamic and integral part of the storytelling. The ingenious use of the revolving stage not only brought fluidity to the scenes but also seemed to expand the small stage, allowing for long walking scenes and adding a brilliant extra element to the choreography. The clever use of minimal props and strategic lighting meant that there was nothing on the stage to distract form the action, always keeping the focus on the actors, drawing the audience deeper into the story.
Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical is more than just a trip down memory lane. It’s a cleverly crafted, vibrant celebration of a brilliant decade, brought to life through a blend of powerful performances, iconic music, and innovative staging. Whether you’re a fan of the original film or just looking to experience a slice of 90s nostalgia, this musical delivers a thoroughly enjoyable and emotionally resonant experience.
I will definitely be returning before their currently advertised run ends on April 14th, 2024, and I urge you to get yourself there too, while there are still tickets available. Oh, and if you’re not sure where to put your coat during the show, Kathryn has the answer for you… “you can put it anywhere!”
Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical is on at London’s The Other Palace from 31 January – 14 April. To book tickets visit theotherpalace.co.uk.
Words Nick Barr
Photography Pamela Raith