We imagine many readers will have seen the hit film Cruel Intentions – or at least be aware of it – but for those unfamiliar, it’s an iconic 1999 movie starring Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Geller. It’s based on the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which tells a tale of seduction and revenge. The film is perhaps as famous for a scene featuring Phillippe – which we’re sure will have been a gay awakening moment for many queer folk of a certain age – as it is for its brilliant soundtrack, featuring the likes of Placebo, Counting Crows and The Cardigans. Given how renowned the film is for its songs, it makes sense for the stage adaptation to be a jukebox musical.
There’s a lot here to enjoy – of course, the music is the highlight. With an impressive live band and a handful of individually strong vocal performances, many of the film’s songs are included here, and there are several additional ’90s bangers thrown in for good measure, from the likes of Natalie Imbruglia, The Spice Girls and No Doubt. In fact, there’s a lot of music – the programme lists more than 20 songs and (we are informed on press night) there was a late addition that didn’t make it into the programme. Some of these are snippets as opposed to the whole song, but that’s still quite a number to cram into two hours.
The result is that a handful of the key scenes do feel a little bit rushed – sometimes it seems like there needs to be more space for dialogue to progress, for exchanges to develop into something more meaningful or for important moments to be dwelled upon. It feels like it’s trying to squeeze so much in that significant moments aren’t afforded the time they deserve, which is a bit of a shame.
We were also a little disappointed with the depiction of the gay characters – yes, we get this is a ’90s-inspired musical, and it’s depicting a moment in time, a moment that was far less progressive than today. Even with that caveat, it still feels somewhat problematic to have stereotypical, one-dimensional gay men as the only representation of a queer narrative within the show. There are a handful of other moments which felt a little uncomfortable, too – the show seems to take an ‘it was acceptable at the time’ approach to a number of scenes, which sat a bit uneasily with us.
It has some issues, but on balance we still had a fun evening with this musical adaptation of Cruel Intentions. It’s mainly about the songs – for the most part the selection is fantastic and they’re well-performed (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky in particular is superb). Some of the attitudes feel a bit dated and some of the pacing is rushed, but this high-camp night of nostalgia still makes for an entertaining evening.
GAY TIMES gives Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical – 3/5
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