If you’re feeling nostalgic for the catchy pop hits of the ‘90s, CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL is just the ticket. By far the most enjoyable element of this musical adaptation of the 1999 film (itself inspired by the 1782 French novel LES LIAISIONS DANGEREUSES) is discovering the surprising ways in which the show incorporates some of the most iconic ‘90s jams. The musical plays somewhere between a faithful recreation of the film and a parody. In detailing the devious exploits of lustful stepsiblings Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont, the original 1999 film was already fairly out there. The musical takes all of that manipulation and teenage lust and heightens it even further. While fans of the original film will recognize the most iconic traits of each character here, all of the teenagers (and Mrs. Caldwell, the lone adult) become even more like caricatures.

It’s tonally a move that works: CRUEL INTENTIONS is unabashed in its goal to deliver as much entertainment and off-color jokes as possible. Created by Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble (the film’s screenwriter and director), the musical’s dialogue hews closely to the movie. That’s a choice that largely works in terms of making the show an exercise in nostalgia.  Most of that remains in good fun, as CRUEL INTENTIONS has always been about behaving badly. That said, I think some of the more overtly homophobic and ableist language could now be axed from the script because it doesn’t really do much in service of the story, nor does its inclusion amp up the entertainment value in any meaningful way.

The script does make some other changes more reflective of the current moment.  It heightens the illicit relationship between football player Greg and his love interest Blaine Tuttle, and the sexual relationships in the show are generally depicted as more consensual. These changes help bring CRUEL INTENTIONS into the modern moment, while still allowing the show to function at its nostalgic best. CruelIntentions2

CRUEL INTENTIONS becomes the most deliciously entertaining when it lets the ensemble tear into the ‘90s hit catalog. The show incorporates all these songs in some surprising and hilarious ways. While I don’t want to spoil all of those here, let’s provide a quick example: Kathryn and Cecile’s iconic kissing scene is now accompanied by Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me.” This kind of interplay between song and plot point maximizes the entertainment factor in CRUEL INTENTIONS. And if it hadn’t occurred to you before that you needed to hear a mash-up of, say, “I Want It That Way/Bye Bye Bye,” the show will have you wondering why you didn’t seek up such a brilliant combination before.

While the young cast deftly conveys the dark, lustful energy of CRUEL INTENTIONS’ characters, they don’t always hit the mark vocally. Still, half the fun is just hearing the songs on a stage anyway. Of the performers, Taylor Pearlstein is the strongest vocalist in the role of Kathryn. She captures all of Kathryn’s calculating and seductive energy, and she can also tear into a ‘90s pop hit like no other (Pearlstein has a fantastic medley of songs near the end of the show, and she gives it her all). Jeffrey Kringer captures all of Sebastian’s slick charm, and his blond curls clearly recall the role’s original actor, Ryan Phillippe. Brooke Singer makes Cecile into an absolute naïve, ditzy caricature, but she remains wholly committed to that choice and therefore contributes some of the show’s biggest laughs. Above all, the cast exudes tons of energy and consistently conveys the sly wink that underscores the show’s heightened tone.

It’s best to think of CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL as a ‘90s jukebox hit parade with the film’s plot wrapped loosely around it. It maintains the film’s dark, devious tone, but it’s not at all serious. Mostly it’s just fun to revisit the greatest, catchiest pop songs from the ‘90s.

CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL plays Broadway In Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut, through April 14. Tickets are $35-$72.

 Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson

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