Reviews/Musical Theatre

Party like it’s 1999 without cruel intentions

26 August 2022

Relive your teenage dirtbag years with Cruel Intentions which Erin Hutchinson says is a mixtape of nostalgic fun.

Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical, David Venn Enterprises ·
The Regal Theatre, 25 August 2022 ·

The music of our teenage years apparently triggers a serious dopamine hit known as neural nostalgia. I’m tempted to agree as last night’s opening of Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical had me going like it was 1999.   

The show itself is a parody of the film; pretty much the script lifted and set to a few select songs from the soundtrack, along with a wide range of other well known 90s numbers. I was in throwback heaven. 

If you know the film, you’ll love it. The Dangerous Liaisons inspired storyline of petty, unprincipled rich kids corrupting their peers to the eventual destruction of themselves is great fun. And though some of the dialogue and attitudes are dated now (see homophobia, racism, sexism, gender bias), these sections can still hold a function of making us more aware of how problematic these behaviours were and the importance of change.  

It’s hard to be disgruntled as the musical represents exactly what the film was and doesn’t pretend otherwise. The characters, the costumes and the choreography are all caricatures of the iconic 90s movie, and the combination delivers a show with energy, pizzaz and a large dollop of humour. In fact, if I’ve got any gripe, it would be that there’s no chance to sit in the story because it’s a continuous high-speed, high-energy ride through a mix tape of memories.  

Annette (Kelsey Halge) takes centre stage in ‘Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical’. Photo: Nicole Cleary

Alister Smith’s direction works wonders with James Browne’s incredible set design. It is great to see the Regal Theatre stage used to the max, with the band (led by musical director Daniel Puckey) featuring upstage and revealed for particularly grungy moments.  Browne’s moveable, towering set pieces creates seamless transitions through interaction with the actors, and the video design by Craig Wilkinson and lighting by Declan O’Neill amplify the effect to create a design that will be on my favourites list for a while.  

The movement and choreography from Freya List and Tanya Mitford are excellent, reaching into the realm of 90s hip hop, pop dance and a bit of contemporary movement reminiscent of routines by our fave boy bands, Brittney or Christina.  

And talking about faves, the cast for this production are first class, with voices well suited to the range of rock and pop music. Kirby Burgess (Kathryn) and WAAPA graduate Drew Weston (Sebastion) are obvious standouts as the narcissistic stepbrother and sister, though Burgess has a tough job pushing through the one-dimensional role to create any connection with character.  

She’s sexy and seductive with early numbers such as “Genie in a Bottle”, but her belted out mashup of songs for “Kathryn’s Turn” at the eleventh hour, though expertly sung, is not quite earned. A flaw of the script rather than of Burgess’ ability. Weston (whose bottom gets a sneaky moment, too) works well in his many duets and has a lovely moment in “Iris”.  

Kirby Burgess and Drew Weston are standouts as the narcissistic siblings. Photo: Nicole Cleary

Annette (Kelsey Halge) has less of an impactful role than I expected or remembered from the film and again we miss the connection with the character. Reese Witherspoon’s thoughtful, intelligent, principled Annette comes across as an early Brittney-esque goodie two shoes. This isn’t helped by her unfortunately unflattering costumes. She does get some great numbers though – “Kiss Me”, “Lovefool”, “Torn”, “Foolish Games” – and Halge’s voice is strong and rich.  

Gay couple Blaine (Euan Fistrovic Doidge) and Greg (Joseph Spanti) have a rollercoaster of a relationship we need to look past but are audience favourites with “Bye Bye Bye” and music tutor Ronald (Rishab Kern) gets a great stand-up moment to Fem Billing’s Mrs Caldwell in “No Scrubs”.  

I feel like the whole musical needs a rewrite, though, because stealing the show in every scene is Helpmann Award nominated, WAAPA graduate Francine Cain as Cecile (Selma Blair in the film). Cain leans into the style of parody with gusto, and her physicality and expression are outstanding. As much as I love the film, I feel like Cecile’s was the story I really wanted to watch.  

All that said, after a couple of years missing professional touring shows in WA, this is an incredible example of the high quality of performance and production values we should be expecting onstage. If you want a reminder of your youth, love your 90s pop, grunge and rock, don’t hesitate, this production is well worth re-living your teenaged dirtbag years.   

Cruel Intentions the 90s Musical is at the Regal Theatre until 3 September 2022.

Francine Cain steals the show with an outstanding display of physicality and expression. Photo: Nicole Cleary

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Author —
Erin Hutchinson

Erin Hutchinson is an actor, singer, theatre maker and teacher who is passionate about local arts. Whilst she wishes she could still be a ninja on the monkey bars, she’s content to enjoy a turn on the swings… easier to still hold a glass of wine.

Past Articles

  • Lyrical litter bring new purr-spective

    WAAPA’s graduating class shine in a poetic production of Cats, even if the feline stories don’t quite thread together, writes Erin Hutchinson. 

  • Don’t dream it – see it!

    The cast is incredible, the designs divine and the joys are endless. Erin Hutchinson urges you all to celebrate Rocky Horror’s big birthday and do the time warp again.

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