You may not think a 1990s B-grade movie that made a virtue of teen sex, bullying and betrayal could be fodder for the happy-go-lucky genre of the stage musical, and yet this is proving part of the strange appeal of Cruel Intentions.
Director Alister Smith’s vibrant, pop infused show opened last week at the State Theatre and received a standing ovation from a packed crowd, who eagerly absorbed its heavy dose of ’90s nostalgia.
Packed with classics from NSYNC, The Goo Goo Doll, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and many other retro hits it had opening night attendees laughing at in-jokes and singing and dancing along.
Based on Roger Krumble’s 1999 film it follows callous step-siblings, Kathyrn and Sebastian Valmont who have money, power, and relish in the pain of others.
The company is in Sydney until Sunday (July 17) after beginning its Australian tour in Melbourne. The cast then go on to Brisbane, followed by Perth, Adelaide and Canberra.
The musical is based on Roger Krumble’s 1999 film which follows callous step-siblings, Kathyrn and Sebastian Valmont who have money, power, and relish in the pain of others. Kathryn manipulates young and naive Cecile Caldwell while Sebastian attempts to seduce devout virgin Annette Hargrove.
The musical’s lead, Kirby Burgess in the role of Kathryn displayed her astounding vocal range, reaching every corner of the State Theatre as she carried her solo numbers and duets. She earned applause after her solo Only One and Kathryn’s Turn for her athletic vocals.
Burgess’ portrayal of Kathryn was enticing and captivating, much like the original role which Sarah Michelle Gellar played, earning much laughter from the audience with her comedic delivery of lines.
The other titular character was performed by Drew Weston who reimagined Ryan Phillippe’s film role of Sebastian. Weston’s vocals were outstanding. The audience cheered and giggled as his solo rendition of Iris began. The theatre came to life as the audience sang and danced along to Weston’s refrain. Burgess and Weston combined their talents in the song Losing My Religion which received great applause for their powerful duet.
Kelsey Halge took on Reese Witherspoon’s role of Annette Hargrove in her professional theatre debut. She displayed her incredible vocal range in many of her solo numbers and duets with Weston. Halge was introduced to the show with the song Just a Girl which displayed her character’s fierce while innocent attitude.
She excelled in the song Foolish Games and her duets with Weston including Lovefool and Colourblind were moving. The song Colourblind was authentic to the movie as it played in the same scene as the original moment when Annette and Sebastian reunite at the airport.
Euan Fistrovic Doidge (Blaine Tuttle) and Joseph Spanti (Greg McConnell) were perhaps the most outright funny couple in a plot of revolving relationships. They performed Marcy Playground’s Sex and Candy and NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye which sent the audience wild.
Francine Cain (Cecile Caldwell) and Rishab Kern (Ronald Clifford) had huge chemistry and vocal range in their charming duet Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Cain, who almost stole the show with her comedic turns, embodied the innocence of Selma Blair’s original character. The audience cheered as Cain sang I Don’t Want To Wait and the ensemble joined her in this number with strong vocals and choreography.
Kern and Fem Belling (Mrs Caldwell) performed a comedic and amusing duet of No Scrubs while the opening number, the final song of Act 1, and the finale displayed the talents of the entire ensemble and cast altogether.
Lighting designer Declan O’Neill did a great job with the constantly swirling production, occasionally blinding the audience with spotlights for effect.
The cast members words were often projected on to the set, showing the importance of lyrics to the production, while also suggesting the pages of Sebastian’s diary, which would prove pivotal to the plot at the end. When Annette reads Sebastian’s letter and journal the letter is written out on the sets through the lighting projection.
O’Neill has worked in more than 150 productions and his talents were on full display.
The use of audio (ocean and car sounds) and voiceover from audio designer, Greg Ginger also enhanced the production.
And at the back of the stage a live band added flair and kept the production suitably raucous throughout.
During Kathryn’s Turn, the band behind the stage was revealed and with Burgess’ vocals, it felt like being at a heavy metal concert.
Also worth mentioning from this fabulous David Venn Enterprises production include musical director Daniel Puckey, choreographer Freya List, costume designer Isaac Lummis and set designer James Browne.
Cruel Intentions is playing at The State Theatre in Market Street, Sydney, until July 23. You can book tickets HERE.
Or check out the show’s feel-good Spotify playlist.