BWW Feature: Vengeance Has a Face in CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE MUSICAL
Nearly eighteen years ago, director Roger Kumble pushed quite a few moral boundaries to create a film that has become somewhat of an icon in the cinematic world - a movie legend whose reputation has yet to be tarnished with the passing of time.
Cruel Intentions takes Choderlos de Lacios' 18th century novel Les Liaisons dangereuses and brings themes of incest, manipulation and vengeance to new heights. Substituting ex-lovers with rivaling siblings and married women with virgin ingénues, Kumble gave turn of the century audiences the story of Kathryn Merteuil and Sabastian Valmont, teen step-siblings and lovers who make sport of ruining people's lives. Cruel Intentions has left such an impression on the minds and hearts of people everywhere...especially people like Jordan Ross and Lindsey Rosin.
Ross and Rosin loved the movie so much, in 2014 they decided to invest their time into Cruel Intentions: The Musical, transposing the story we all adore to the stage - now with the added delicacy of music. What Rosin once heard referred to as "naughty nostalgia," she and Ross have certainly done well in taking their love of this movie to new theatrical heights.
Ross' reasoning behind the excitement surrounding their creation is spot on: "What Roger Kumble created is iconic, sexy, hilarious, and ultimately heart breaking. It's a rollercoaster, not unlike young love - and as anyone who has ever been seventeen knows, everything about love is bittersweet."
Falling in love and discovering just how bittersweet it can all feel is intriguing enough, but when all of this happens in the midst of a plot predominately about seduction and manipulation, it's tantalizing ...even beautiful - and that holds true regardless of what year we're in. And as Ross confirms, "there is still so much love for this film. It's up there with the great teen films of the 90's. There's never been any shortage of excitement."
A movie that is so chock full of drama and mischief, Cruel Intentions originally starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon, and continues to be a sort of guilty pleasure we love watching again and again. Between Kathryn's scheming that knows no bounds, Sabastian's need to rule and conquer and Annette's inadvertent ability to foil every plan, the drama is all there to create a wonderful stage adaption. But a musical? It's intriguing.
Cruel Intentions: The Musical had its 2015 debut at the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles, and thirty-eight sold out performances later, returned for a second sold out run at LA's Prospect Theatre in November of last year. Now premiering in New York at (Le) Poisson Rouge with stage direction by Lindsey Rosin and music direction by Zach Spound, Cruel Intentions: The Musical will bring both the greatest hits from the '90s and songs from the movie soundtrack to an already sold-out venue for a limited pop-up engagement.
So how did this idea for a musical come about? Ross explains that, "I actually went to see a friend in a movie-to-musical adaptation and left with the inspiration I was looking for. It didn't take long to settle on Cruel Intentions either. The movie's been in my top five since before I really understood what it was about." Rosin adds that signing on to this project has been "one of the best decisions I've ever made. I feel like I've been preparing for an opportunity like this my whole life. I'm a 90's theater kid - this is literally living the dream."
It also helps that both Ross and Rosin have backgrounds in musical theater, and bringing their concept of a Cruel Intentions musical to audiences is much more than simply a love for the movie. It also has a surprising mutual connection with another icon, Bye Bye Birdie, which contoured both Ross and Rosin's appreciation of theater. "I found my love of story and character through theater," Ross explains. Rosin adds that "I love writing and directing in lots of different mediums, but in my humble opinion there is nothing more satisfying or fulfilling than live theater...there is absolutely nothing like it."
So what does the addition of music really bring to the Cruel Intentions audiences have known up until this point? With the popularity of movie-turned-musical on the rise, it's no wonder that something like this is making so grand an entrance. Rosin believes that the musical "surprises people. It's the story you know with songs you love, and the combination is orgasmic. I think there's something special about the combination of the movie and the music and the live theater experience that just seems to work."
"And music just amplifies all those intense emotions," she continues. "In general music - and song and dance - just takes storytelling to the next level. It's what I've always loved so much about musical theater."
The movie soundtrack is iconic in itself. From songs like "Colorblind" by the Counting Crows, playing as an enamored and defeated Sabastian waits for Annette at the top of the escalator, to the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" which brings the film to its glorious triumph of an end, people remember these songs all to well.
As Rosin explains, "Cruel Intentions is a cult classic because of its script, cast, and, of course, the soundtrack. You can't hear 'Bittersweet Symphony' and not think of Kathryn and her world crumbling, as she's exposed on the steps of Manchester Prep."
When asked if they would ever consider writing original music for the show, Rosin was more enthusiastic about how a "jukebox soundtrack" helps the story unfold on multiple levels. "There's the story of the movie, which is of course the driving force of the musical, but then there's also the story of the music. Also, with our music director Zach Spound and his vocal arrangements... you might love these songs, but you've never heard them quite like this."
Bringing this show to the stage must have been quite the challenge - especially when keeping its cinematic presence in tact. "It's been a blast getting the show up on its feet! Overall, my goal is to the make sure the musical feels as cinematic as possible. It's very fast paced, and each scene rolls right into the next." Rosin explains.
"Since day one, Cruel Intentions: The Musical was a love letter to film's legacy. Audiences can expect to see Roger's razor-sharp script adapted for the stage. The moments that'll make you laugh, the ones that'll break your heart, and even a few that didn't make the final cut" Ross adds.
"Jordan and I are so grateful to have gotten a chance to play in Roger Kumble's sandbox."
When asked if they anticipated great things for Cruel Intentions: The Musical in the future, both Ross and Rosin seemed quite hopeful. "I think we speak for everyone involved when we say that we hope this show has a bright future. Stay tuned!"
Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson