'Cruel Intentions' musical draws from pop songs of the era

  • Betsy Stewart stars as Annette Hargrove in the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" coming to Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place April 2-14.

    Betsy Stewart stars as Annette Hargrove in the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" coming to Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place April 2-14. Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

 
 
Posted3/29/2019 6:00 AM

Growing up in the 1990s, actress Betsy Stewart never got to fulfill her childhood dream of being a pop star. But now Stewart says she is experiencing the next best thing in the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical."

The hit 2017 off-Broadway movie-to-jukebox-musical adaptation makes its Chicago debut at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place for a two-week run starting Tuesday, April 2.

 

"This is a dreamy experience for me because a lot of these songs I grew up loving," said Stewart, a Northwestern University alumna with suburban roots through her Des Plaines-native mother and Park Ridge grandmother.

"It's Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, there's Boyz II Men and there's the more alternative '90s rock that I loved as an angsty teen like R.E.M., No Doubt and Jewel," Stewart said. "It's a really fun score and the arrangements -- they make everything a little richer and they fill out the sound."

Taylor Pearlstein, Jeffrey Kringer and Betsy Stewart star in the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical," which comes to the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place April 2-14.
Taylor Pearlstein, Jeffrey Kringer and Betsy Stewart star in the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical," which comes to the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place April 2-14. - Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

The music helps embody and comment on the sexually manipulative characters -- and their targets -- in "Cruel Intentions."

This cult 1999 teenage film drama starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe and Selma Blair. Stewart has the Reese Witherspoon role of Annette Hargrove, the daughter of the prep school's new headmaster. Annette makes a very public oath to save herself until marriage.

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This prompts spoiled stepsiblings Sebastian Valmont (Jeffrey Kringer) and Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein) to plot to make Annette betray her pledge.

"Any time you have an adaptation of a movie to musical, and that's really common these days, you have to think about how can I honor this person's performance," Stewart said. "Especially when it is something as iconic and beloved as Reese Witherspoon in 'Cruel Intentions,' and I am a huge Reese Witherspoon fan."

"Cruel Intentions" was very much part of a 1990s trend that successfully saw literary classics transformed into updated hit teenage films. Hence Jane Austen's "Emma" and Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" respectively became "Clueless" in 1995 and "10 Things I Hate About You" in 1999.

The cast of the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" are ready for the Chicago run April 2-14 at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
The cast of the national tour of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" are ready for the Chicago run April 2-14 at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. - Courtesy of Jenny Anderson
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In the case of "Cruel Intentions," the inspiration was Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." The 1782 French novel inspired play and operatic adaptations, as well as the films "Dangerous Liaisons" in 1988 and "Valmont" in 1989.

For her role, Stewart is focusing on the era of "Cruel Intentions" and its world of wealthy American privilege.

"It's this lush Upper East Side private school world," Stewart said. "We want to keep that aesthetic and the energy of the 'Cruel Intentions' take on 'Dangerous Liaisons.'"

Stewart has many childhood memories of traveling from Iowa to Chicago to visit relatives and to see lots of theater -- both national tours in the Loop and at suburban venues such as Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

"I'm looking forward to be back in the town where I fell in love with theater," Stewart said. "I think this is a show that anyone can enjoy, and this is the ultimate 1990s experience."

• • •

"Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical"

Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Shows: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, from April 2-14

Tickets: $31.50-$96.50

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