Liberally based on a 1782 French novel and transposed from the homonymous 1999 cult movie, Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical has a rather cumbersome plot to shoehorn in to just 75 minutes.
Half-siblings Kathryn Merteuil (Rebecca Gilhooley) and Sebastian Valmont (Dominic Andersen) are both awfully proud of their sexual exploits. Dumped by her lover for Cecile Caldwell (Evelyn Hoskins), Kathryn seeks revenge by asking Sebastian to seduce her rival. He refuses, in favour of Annette Hargrove (Sophie Isaacs), daughter of the headmaster and author of an essay on chastity until marriage. Eventually, the two make a wager: if Sebastian fails with Annette, Kathryn will get his car, but if he succeeds, he’ll get to spend a night with his stepsister – the only woman who’s ever rejected him.
There follows several twists and turns in the ever more complex relationships of our protagonists, until finally Sebastian finds he has fallen in love with Annette, leading to a dramatic ending as a jealous Kathryn questions his manliness.
Growing up as a teenager in the 1990s I’ve always been fond of the anthems that marked that decade, reminiscent of sweaty school discos, early evening curfews and first loves. Hence, I jumped at the opportunity to see a show set in those memorable years.
With a certain disappointment, however, it didn’t hit the vibe I’d expected. A promising selection of songs from the likes of Sixpence None The Richer, Garbage, No Doubt, TLC, Ace of Base, Boyz II Men and many more suffer from watered down arrangements and a wavering sound quality. Particularly cringey is a Britpop ensemble interpretation of Placebo’s “Every You Every Me”, lethargic and irreparably spoiled by crackling mics.
The choreographies only nod to the golden years of boy bands like NSYNC, whilst the costumes are rather anonymous. Only Kathryn’s choker and wet, backcombed hair recall the Nineties’ unmistakable style. Relevant makeup and footwear are basically absent.
Eventually, the performance does warm up. Particularly fitting is Andersen’s casting as Valmont. Hits by Natalie Imbruglia, Britney Spears, Alanis Morrisette and Christina Aguilera are deliciously sung by the female leads. Whilst Scott Hunter and Dean John-Wilson add some comedy into the mix. The closing act is a befitting ensemble version of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by Verve.
Debuting in the UK to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film, this musical comedy might strike a chord with the Nineties’ nostalgic but requires more rehearsal and an extra 20 minutes to make an impact.
Based on a film by: Roger Kumble
Created by: Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble
Directed by: Jonathan O’Boyle
Choreographed by: Gary Lloyd
Produced by: Bill Kenwright Ltd
Box Office: +44 (0)131 226 0000
Booking Link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/cruel-intentions-the-90s-musical
Booking Until: 25 August 2019