Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL at Kokandy Productions

Kokandy's regional premiere of this nostalgic, campy '90s musical romp now extended through August 21, 2022

By: Jun. 20, 2022
Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL at Kokandy Productions

Kokandy Productions' staging of CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL is a fun romp filled with '90s nostalgia and some banging vocals from director Adrian Abel Azevedo's ensemble. Created by Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble and based on Kumble's 1999 film of the same name, CRUEL INTENTIONS understands its assignment well to deliver camp, fun, and '90s hits. While I found the original film quite absurd with its seductive and slightly sadistic tale of lascivious stepsiblings Kathryn and Sebastian and their antics, the musical owns the ridiculousness, and in the end, makes for a clever adaptation that improves upon its source material. Certain elements of the film have not aged well, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the musical compensates for that.

Peppering the musical with songs from the likes of Britney Spears, No Doubt, NSYNC, Jewel, and more is also a brilliant move. The nostalgia of the music matches the nostalgia for the film's totally '90s vibe. This is likewise reflected in the production elements. Mara Ishihara Zinky's set captures the allure of the Manhattan rich kids' playground and gives the ensemble ample room to deliver on Laura Savage's simple but effective choreography. Uriel Gomez's costume designs strike the balance between prep school and then outfits certainly not suitable for school at all; the costumes for each of the main characters reflect their personalities to a T. G "Max" Maxin IV's lighting design and MIke Patrick's sound design also give the production some well-suited pop rock concert vibes. The show cues up each of its '90s bangers nicely.

CRUEL INTENTIONS is a musical designed to entertain, but it takes the right actors to really own the plot in all its ridiculous-and you need singers who can really belt their faces off. Luckily, this ensemble is up to the task. As queen bee Kathryn Merteuil, Maddison Denault has an in-your-face powerful belt that seems effortless; Denault's powerful vocals mirror the character's confident exterior (though as we learn throughout the show, Kathryn has carefully cultivated that facade, and those typical teenage insecurities lurk underneath). Denault struts across the stage and easily flits from power number to power number, particularly nailing her 11 o'clock number "Kathryn's Turn." As her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont, David Moreland is equally sly, and his vocals are a welcome mix of slick and powerful. He translates the character's sliminess into the vocals, but he also has enough power to really lean into the songs.

As the naive and hopeful Cecil Caldwell, Anabella Oddo just might be the standout of the entire production. Oddo is a terrific actor with her incredibly elastic facial expressions and the way she plays Cecile's incredulity at every turn. She combines those notes of innocence though with really strong vocals. Kelcy Taylor brings the right mix of sweet and clever to newcomer Annette Hargove, who Sebastian vows to seduce in a bet against Kathryn. While Taylor's naturally lighter tone had me wishing for a little more power on some of her songs, she develops her character's arc beautifully and lets the emotion in her vocals reflect that shift as Annette comes into her own. I give kudos to understudy Justin Grey McPike in the role of Blaine Tuttle, who's involved in an illicit relationship with Greog McConnell (Jimmy Romano, hilariously embodying the stereotypical "dumb jock.") McPike was clearly rehearsing right up to the moment the performance on Saturday, June 18 began, and he nailed it (though I think the volume on his mic pack needed to be brought up to match the sound mixing with the band). Lucas Looch Johnson amuses as Cecile's cello instructor Ronald, who goes toe-to-toe with Cecile's uptight mother Bunny Caldwell (deliciously played by Elizabeh Lesinski). At the performance I saw, Niki-Charisse Franco, Jaxon Smith, TJ Tapp, and Kolby Cardwell rounded out the ensemble, providing fun backing vocals and upbeat dance moves from Savage's choreography.

If you're ready to jam out to classic '90s hits, enjoy a ridiculous romp of a story, and take in a musical that's just plain fun, Kokandy Productions' CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL brings it.

Kokandy Productions' CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL runs through August 21, 2022 at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 West Division Street. Tickets are $40, with a limited number of $15 student and artist tickets available for each performance.

Photo Credit: Evan Hanover