Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS - THE 90S MUSICAL at The Garden Theatre

It is the most fun you will have at any theater this holiday season! Sex, drugs, and 90s tunes!

By: Nov. 19, 2022
Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS - THE 90S MUSICAL at The Garden Theatre

CRUEL INTENTIONS - THE 90S MUSICAL is a nitrous oxide blast of irreverent shenanigans and pre-millennial nostalgia that takes the 1999 movie and turns it into something akin to THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. It's a rock musical featuring all of the naughty behavior of the original film and marries it to the "hits of the day" that were hot when it came out. Innuendos about "booty sex" merge with Backstreet Boys singles in a jukebox musical that revels in the absurdity of the original concept. The Roger Kumble film took the French epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and perversely set it in the late 90s teen world of upper set Manhattan. The musical let's audiences laugh and jeer as the characters turn in the dark comedy laced with the hits of their youth. The opening night audience was cheering, singing along, and gasping at the antics of this amusingly rambunctious piece of musical comedy.

The oh-so-familiar narrative revolves around two wealthy serpentine step-siblings who make a bet to deflower the virginal new girl who is the prim and proper daughter of their new headmaster. Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont are bored enough to ruin people's virtue and reputations simply for kicks. In the film version it was Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe playing the gothic predatory duo, and the stars made headlines for doing same-sex kissing, casual drugs, and plenty of nudity. At the time the film was a low budget indie project that got picked up by Columbia Pictures and turned a nice profit. Twenty-three years later it's still a pop culture touchstone and a gleeful peek at "what if Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned bad."

This stage version is completely faithful to its source material, and replicates beat for beat everything from the movie. It simply adds in 90s hits including two songs actually from the original soundtrack. If you recall the days of No Doubt, REM, Backstreet Boys, Paula Cole, and Meredith Brooks then this is your ultimate retro jam! The musical started off in 2015 as a simple revue in a Hollywood bar, and it's back to those grassroots that the Garden Theatre and director Logan Vaden are taking it. Utilitarian sets and a game cast of ten flesh out the sex-obsessed story and a slew of 90s hits in all of their glory. The staging and choreography are gleefully physically broad, and most of the proceedings are played for pure laughs. There are moments that bleed authenticity of raw emotion, but for the most part this is a comic sendup of a camp movie that took itself far too seriously.

Austin Colburn and Julianne McBride bring to life the sinister upper East side duo of Kathryn and Sebastian, and are ready to chew up scenery and bust out the tunes. In comparison to the rest of the "kids" they look like yuppie vampires encased in skin tight black clothes that reveal plenty of cleavage and bulges. Both showcase amazing vocal deliveries of any 90s anthem they are given, and they have magnetic stage presences. In contrast to each other McBride plays more of the absurd comedy, while Colburn tilts at real emotions in his Sebastian. They carry the show as both heroes and villains, and it's a sly joy you get out of watching them crush those around them.

Jackie Cortina plays the virginal target of Sebastian's game, and she's sweetly empowered throughout. You truly believe her Annette is both moral enough to extol virtue, but also strong enough to admit temptation. Kinley Pletzer takes the physical awkwardness of Selma Blair's Cecile in the film, and cranks everything up to eleven. She is a whirlwind of impressive physical comedy mixed with big vocals. Sekou Nance is the black music teacher, and he powers through his songs like a "take you to church" champ. He has perhaps the best voice in the cast. Daniel Edwards and Efren Calderon play a reluctantly gay couple with a ton of charm and "brosexual" Backstreet charisma. Whitney Wyatt appears as the only "grown up" in the room, but she proves her vocal chops can take down any of the other "kids" around her.

None of this is subtle, none of it is serious, and none of it isn't hilariously entertaining. Director Logan Vaden smartly sticks closely to the film, but then gets his cast to turn it into even more melodrama than the original ever imagined. Vocally the cast is strong, and they are choreographed to fill the stage nicely adding a frenetic life to every scene. This is a playful piece, and he has allowed the cast and the audience the room to have fun. I can't imagine anyone walking out of this without a cheesy big grin on their face, especially if they grew up in a time when this was the movie you were scared to let your parents know you watched.

If there are gripes or grumbles, they are small. Sometimes the microphones get too close to each other (especially in the kissing scenes) and create feedback. The mics are also a little temperamental, and at times actors fade in and out during numbers. There are daringly physical love scenes, but the use of "modesty bands" and jumpsuits gets distracting. If you are going to play "naughty" then don't let the audience see your hesitation and the tricks to keep your virtue intact.

CRUEL INTENTIONS - THE 90S MUSICAL is the most fun you are going to have this holiday season at any theater. While every other family is off enjoying THE NUTCRACKER or A CHRISTMAS CAROL for the 1,000th time, why not get your sleazy 90s fix with your friends? There is even a drinking game and a trivia contest for the audience at this one! As a fan of the original novel, the period perfect DANGEROUS LIAISONS play or film, and the 1999 movie... I can't endorse this enough! God forbid we exude confidence, enjoy sex, and respect the 90s when they were naughty. Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999!

CRUEL INTENTIONS plays through November 27th at the MATCH complex in Midtown Houston. As of this writing at least one night is completely sold out, and once word gets out this will be a hot ticket. There is plenty of parking around the theater, and also many choices of restaurants and bars within walking distance. So grab a Long Island Ice Tea, and get ready!