'Cruel Intentions' musical shoehorns pop hits into the 1999 teen drama

  • Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein) and her stepbrother, Sebastian Valmont (Jeffrey Kringer), make a bet to sexually manipulate their classmates in "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago.

    Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein) and her stepbrother, Sebastian Valmont (Jeffrey Kringer), make a bet to sexually manipulate their classmates in "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago. Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

  • The ensemble of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" sings a medley of songs for the finale of Act I at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago.

    The ensemble of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" sings a medley of songs for the finale of Act I at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago. Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

 
 
Updated 4/4/2019 6:29 PM

"Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" - ★ ★

There's a lot of moaning going on with the national touring debut of "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place -- and not just from the sexually manipulative main characters.

 

This 2017 off-Broadway jukebox musical elicits plenty of purring appreciation from its audience, clearly enjoying the familiar plotlines and well-performed pulsating pop tunes in this unabashed 1990s nostalgia trip.

Fans of hits from Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" to R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" giggle and nod with ironic recognition as these and other '90s pop songs get shoehorned into a script inspired by the 1999 cult teen film drama.

It's a great idea in theory, concocted by musical creators Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and original "Cruel Intentions" screenplay author/director Roger Kumble. Kumble, in fact, first dreamed up the idea of transforming the libidinous 18th century French courtiers in Choderlos De Laclos' "Les Liaisons Dangeruses" into wealthy and spoiled New York prep school students for the film. Of course, these 1990s youths would turn to Top-40 hits to reflect their angst and lust.

Annette Hargrove (Betsy Stewart) and Sebastian Valmont (Jeffrey Kringer) share their conflicted affections to the tune of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" in "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago.
Annette Hargrove (Betsy Stewart) and Sebastian Valmont (Jeffrey Kringer) share their conflicted affections to the tune of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" in "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago. - Courtesy of Jenny Anderson
by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But in execution, the pop hits come off as a self-aware and smirky exercise rather than being seamlessly integrated into the storytelling. It doesn't help that the musical's tone veers so jarringly from somber tragedy to silly camp.

Despite the musical's drawbacks, the sterling ensemble of "Cruel Intentions" isn't to be faulted. The performers all sing up a storm and make the most out of the imperfect material.

The musical's main manipulators -- stepsiblings Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein) and Sebastian Valmont (Jeffrey Kringer) -- wager on whether they can ruin the reputations of their peers, especially the chaste headmaster's daughter Annette Hargove (Betsy Stewart). They're vicious, but even their tragic comeuppances don't offer much in the way of relatable catharsis.

Other supporting characters come off more like they're living it up in "Saturday Night Live" sketches. These include the loopy Cecile Caldwell (Brooke Singer, who gets to sing an outrageous take on Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You"), her uptight mother (Dara Orland) and Julliard-bound musician Roland Clifford (Richard Crandle).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein) sings in "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago.
Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein) sings in "Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago. - Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

There's also a clandestine gay relationship between the football jock Greg McConnell (John Battagliese) and the often shirtless Blaine Tuttle (David Wright). It's eye-rolling that these two largely sing boy band songs, including the Backstreet Boys' "I Want it That Way," as a running joke.

The tour stumbles badly in its staging of the film's climactic fight/car accident (Kenneth Ferrone's tour direction is inspired by the original staging). There were also some sound balance issues that proved distracting on opening night.

In the end, "Cruel Intentions" should appeal to die-hard fans of the film and those who grew up on the pop hits of the era. But for others, "Cruel Intentions" will be more of a baffling experience.

• • •

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, through April 14

Running time: About 2 hours with intermission

Tickets: $31.50-$96.50

Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking

Rating: For mature audiences only: strong sexuality, nudity, drug use and language

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.