BWW Interview: Jeffrey Kringer Talks CRUEL INTENTIONS in Advance of DPAC Show
"It's just been the most exciting whirlwind of a ride to get to do this," says Jeffrey Kringer.
And it has been a whirlwind for Kringer who just graduated from Fredonia State University last May. Kringer is playing the role of anti-hero Sebastian Valmont in the musical CRUEL INTENTIONS. It's his first national tour, and he says it feels like the right fit at the right time.
"It definitely feels like I've being thrust into a whole different caliber of theater and expectations, but I've been taking every new experience and new lesson in stride," he says.
The challenge Kringer says is figuring out how to make such a detestable character likeable.
"That's the challenge," he says. "You want the audience to be rooting for Sebastian, that he will be changed at the end, and it's hard to facilitate that as an actor."
CRUEL INTENTIONS is a jukebox musical based on the 1999 cult-movie of the same name. The show is about two manipulative teenagers, Sebastian Valmont and Kathryn Merteuil, who plot to destroy the reputation of the incoming headmaster's daughter. The story is inspired by the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The score features popular 90s songs, including Genie in a Bottle (Christina Aguilera), Bye Bye Bye (NSYNC), and Breakfast at Tiffanys (Deep Blue Something).
"We are immersing the audience in a complete 90s throwback experience between the film's nostalgia and all of these recognizable tunes that we're all jamming out to up there," Kringer says. "By the end it's just getting thrown back into that decade wholeheartedly and it's definitely a unique energy."
But despite the fun throwback, Kringer says the show explores some serious questions about privilege, society, and redemption.
"I think Sebastian and Kathryn, all these characters, they're all products of our society," he says. "They're products of privileged imbalances and inequality whether that be on a status level, on a racial level, on a sexuality level."
And telling that part of the story and exploring how to balance out the societal scales is the aspect of the show that Kringer says is most fulfilling.
"These societal imbalances are present, they're affecting our youth, and they are causing huge gaps in apathy for people who have less," he says. "It is something all too scary and relevant and continues to be present in our society, and I think that's why this musical and the movie still resonate with people."
Kringer says he can relate in a way to Sebastian but is grateful to instructors, friends, and family who have educated him and kept him from going down a similar path.
"It's an eye-opening thing to reflect on someone who comes from a very similar background as me and who has gone down this path of apathy," he says. "My entire life I've been faced with these choices, and I'm not going to deny or hide the fact that I have just as much privilege as Sebastian does, but it's how you use it."
"I think the question that the show raises is, can he [Sebastian] be redeemed? Can any amount of apologizing make up for these horrible inexcusable things he's done to women, to people who from his perspective have less status to him?"
"Can ignorant people be reintegrated into society as positive forces? That's not a question I can answer. That's a question that the audience members are going to answer for themselves."
And Kringer says with the advent of social media since the movie first came out 20 years ago, these questions are as timely than ever.
"It's very easy for people to sit behind a screen and mercilessly bully people," he says. "It's so accessible to us, and I think although the methods are different the intentions are the same, the cruel intentions are the same and have been for a long time."
"It's so easy to put something out there on the internet and instead of using it as a tool of connectivity it is a tool of harassment, bickering and conflict," he adds. "It's not a platform for discussion, it's a platform of conflict."
"And I think that's the wakeup call that our characters in the show end up going through because you can't take things back. Once you put something out there about someone, once you hurt someone in a public way, it is there forever and it's not only marking them, it's marking you."
CRUEL INTENTIONS plays the Durham Performing Arts Center this Wednesday, April 24th. For more information visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/cruel-intentions-the-90s-musical.
Photo by Jenny Anderson.