Theater review by Jonathan Matthews
The new musical Cruel Intentions is aimed at audiences in search of guilty pleasures. Like the 1999 film that Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross have adapted it from, the show is a teenage gloss on Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Stepsiblings Kathryn (Lauren Zakrin) and Sebastian (Constantine Rousouli) are sexual conquistadors at an Upper East Side prep school; Kathryn wants revenge on the boy who dumped her for sheltered incoming classmate Cecile (Jessie Shelton), a mission that tangles with Sebastian’s intent to bed Annette (Carrie St. Louis), the virginal daughter of the school’s headmaster. A damaging chain of erotic manipulation ensues.
We learn all of this via numbingly expository dialogue stuffed between Cruel Intentions’ true raison d’être: its jukebox score of ’90s pop hits, woven together by nostalgia maestro Zach Spound. Some of the score is satisfyingly subverted: “I Want It That Way” and “Bye Bye Bye” are merged to apply to a forbidden gay fling; “Kiss Me” creepily keeps its innocent ring as the accompaniment to Kathryn teaching Cecile how to get to first base. But most of the songs barely budge the plot, commenting on it instead with a convenient key phrase or two. While its story emphasizes the guilt of pleasure gained at the expense of others, the musical invites you to bop your head along.
[Note: Frankie J. Grande takes over the role of Blaine Tuttle starting March 18, 2018.]
Le Poisson Rouge (Off Broadway). By Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross. Music and lyrics by various artists. Directed by Rosin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. One intermission.
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