CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90s MUSICALCreated by Jordon Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble, based on the film by Roger Kumble
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Tour Direction by Kenneth Ferrone
Original Direction by Lindsey Rosin
Choreographed by Jennifer Weber
Scenic Design: Jason Sherwood
Lighting Design: Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew
Costume Design: Tilly Grimes
Sound Design: Matt Kraus
Music Supervision, Arrangements, Orchestrations: Zach Spound
Hair & Makeup Design: Dave Bova
Casting Director: Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA
Music Director: Dan Garmon
Production Manager: Mary Duffe
Production Stage Manager: James Steele
Greg McConnell: John Battagliese
Ronald Clifford: Richard Crandle
Sebastion Valmont: Jeffrey Kringer
Sarah Jackson: Nicole Medoro
Mrs. Bunny Caldwell: Dara Orland
Ryan Blair: Aramie Payton
Kathryn Merteuil: Taylor Pearlstein
Cecile Caldwell: Brooke Singer
Annette Hargrove: Betsy Stewart
Blaine Tuttle: David Wright
Reviewed Performance: 5/22/2019
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
That Sebastian and Kathryn are unsupervised, while simultaneously enjoying the resources to bankroll Kathryn’s coke habit and Sebastian’s photography-for-blackmail habit, does not fully explain the depth of their evil. Part of it is cultural. In 1999 Manhattan, it is acceptable for men to deceptively seduce and use girls for sex. Sebastian’s prized possession is his reputation as a soulless lothario.
As a girl, Kathryn is trapped in a stereotype that is the opposite of her nature. Girls must be sweet and demure, essentially forcing her into a life of deception. “I’m the Marcia [blanking] Brady of the upper East side,” she fumes.
But these two have, as the title goes, much crueler intentions than can be excused by misogynist culture and class entitlement. The play follows the arc of their diabolical wager. Kathryn was dumped for being a bulimic psycho. In one of many thrilling musical highlights, she belts out “I’m the Only One” every bit as convincing as Melissa Etheridge ever did—arguably more, considering how Kathryn’s voracious sexual appetite truly does make her one of a kind. Instead of plotting revenge directly against her ex, she connives to turn the girl that replaced her, Cecile Caldwell (Brooke Singer), into “the premiere tramp of the New York area” with Sebastian’s help. This conquest is not sufficiently challenging for the rapaciously predatory Sebastian, and the wager thus requires his seduction of the new headmistress’s saving-it-for-marriage virgin of a daughter, Annette Hargrove (Betsy Stewart). As if all of this is not debauched enough, if Sebastian wins, he gets to have sex with his step-sister. Like any Don Juan, Sebastian wants the only thing he cannot have.
This lively, crowd-pleasing rock opera is fueled by the non-stop musical numbers, which are cleverly employed to explain the turbulent emotional states experienced by entitled high schoolers on summer break. The two vices on ample display here are lust and mendacity, but overwhelmingly this production is a fun comedy and a great crowd-pleaser.
Kringer is astounding, and I do not only say that because the audience gets to see him naked (he is, ahem, truly a spectacle—I mean, not that I noticed). Sebastian spends much of his time in a menacing trench coat, but he knows his body is sui generis glorious, as he boasts to Annette that he is everyone’s type. Kringer and Stewart are adorable together, and are able to breathe fresh life into the good-girl-converts-bad-boy trope. Achieving no small feat, Stewart does justice to Jewel’s “Foolish Games”—a ballad that is completely fitting here.
The vocals drive this play, and the three lead actresses do a phenomenal job of belting their solos: think Ethel Merman meets Annie.
Pearlstein is exquisitely vicious as a character that is coldly sadistic yet hotly oversexed. Singer is the perfect comic foil, and she revels in a difficult role. Her character, Cecile, is gullible to the point of stupidity and innocent to the point of ignorance. Singer pulls this off with goofy exuberance; she reminded me of Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.
There is plenty of choreographed sex put to music. The dance numbers are perfectly in sync, and the choreography, as with the songs themselves, is true to the 1990s. The choreography is most obviously fantastic in matching the movement to the characters’ personalities. Singer and Richard Crandle, playing music teacher Ronald Clifford, are particular stand-outs for their “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” duet, in which their characters are both horny and dorky.
Equally hilarious and adroitly staged are John Battagliese as the closeted Greg McConnell, and David Wright as the “out” Blaine Tuttle. The play is a reminder of how much progress society has made in the last two decades on the issue of LGBT rights. In the year 1999, Blaine is out of the closet, but Greg cannot let his father know that daddy’s “pride and joy” is gay (let’s just say Blaine phrases that differently). Blaine puts up with this because “the man has a mouth like a hoover.” We first meet football star Greg when he is describing a sexual encounter with an unnamed girl in grotesquely exploitive terms, which of course the other teens approve of. It is with no small irony that degrading treatment of the opposite sex is met with more approval than having an affectionate relationship with a male (not that Blaine is affectionate; he and Sebastian are equal opportunity louts). Both Battagliese and Wright are great comic actors.
Crandle is delightful as the one character who instinctively sees through the false veneers of Sebastian and Kathryn. “Why are you two helping me?” he is savvy enough to ask. He ultimately concludes, with perfect clarity and accuracy, that “man, there’s some [blanked] up [blank] in this house.”
The costumes are perfectly effective for capturing the adolescents’ personalities. We initially meet the cast in their private school uniforms, and the girls’ are too tight in the bust and too short in the hems—a perfect metaphor for oversexed kids who are forced into trappings that do not fit their emotional states. In perfect alignment with their predatory natures, Sebastian and Kathryn are decked out as contemporary vampires. Cecile’s clothes are too childlike for the sexual appetite that the siblings awaken in her, and Annette’s good-girl uniform is slyly belied by a short skirt and a white blouse she busts out of .
The mostly black set is perfectly reminiscent of the 1990’s tony club scene. This is also true of the lighting, some of which is embedded in the set and some of which captures a strobe effect. A glorious red velvet chaise longue is rolled in and out (and sees a lot of action). The sound design does justice to the accomplished live band, which the audience is allowed glimpses of.
If you liked the movie upon which this musical is based, you are going to LOVE this production. For all of their considerable song and dance talent, the leads actually look like the movie stars. Stewart is a dead ringer for Reese Witherspoon. The audience adored this musical, frequently erupting into applause and gasping with delight at the first line of the popular musical numbers. I highly recommend Cruel Intentions as a rollicking great time.
AT&T Performing Arts Center
May 22 – May 26, 2019
2400 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201
For information and Tickets call 214 880-0202 or go to https://www.attpac.org/.