There are worse 90s nostalgia trips than Cruel Intentions | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

There are worse 90s nostalgia trips than Cruel Intentions 

The cast elevates the production beyond karaoke night.

click to enlarge cruel_intentions-1_web.jpg

Jenny Anderson

Fans of both the 1999 film riff on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's 1782 novel Les Liaisons dangereuses and of 1990s pop and rock hits are the obvious target audience for this musical, now in a touring production. Roger Kumble adapted his own movie (which itself was de Laclos by way of Jay McInerney in its portrait of rich dissolute Manhattan private-school kids) with assists from Jordan Ross and Lindsey Rosin.

The paint-by-numbers affair has its charms, but mostly delivers on-the-nose musical interpolations (performed by a live band, it still feels like a 90s karaoke night) as it marches dutifully through the plot points about a pair of stepsiblings steeped in sexual licentiousness and blackmail. When mean girl Kathryn Merteuil (Taylor Pearlstein), belts out Meredith Brooks's "Bitch," it doesn't exactly tell us anything we don't already know about her. Jennifer Weber's choreography feels like a blend of Britney Spears videos (with the short plaid skirts on the schoolgirl ensemble right out of ". . . Baby One More Time") and Bill T. Jones's furniture-leaping motifs from Spring Awakening.

It's not compelling stuff, but the cast's energetic commitment (particularly Brooke Singer as hilariously awkward-virgin-turned-sex-enthusiast Cecile, who celebrates being part of the "secret society!" of the carnally initiated) keeps it from feeling like a completely cynical affair. Jeffrey Kringer's libertine Sebastian and Betsy Stewart's good-girl Annette have moments of real chemistry, even when warbling the Cardigans' sugary "Lovefool" to each other. Cruel Intentions is slick and self-conscious, like the film, but as 90s nostalgia trips go, you could do worse.   v

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