Cruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical

Cruel-Intentions-Kirby-Burgess-and-Drew-Weston-photo-by-Nicole-ClearyCruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical draws its inspiration from the eighteenth-century novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses about two amoral lovers who become rivals as they amuse themselves by ruining others before ultimately destroying each other.

As the title implies, this modern adaptation transposes the action into the 1990’s where some of the victims are college students. In fact, the musical opens with one of the protagonists, 18-year-old Sebastian, finishing a therapy session for sex addiction.

The musical incorporates a slew of 90’s hit songs though which the characters express their feelings.  Heading an excellent multi-talented cast, Kirby Burgess is outstanding as the potty-mouthed, drug-addled, Ann-Margret look-alike, femme-fatale half of the destructive duo, Kathryn Merteuil. Whether delivering lines, which would make a wharfie blush, or introducing her young victim, Lucille, to the joys of sex, Burgess offers a mesmerising star performance.

Her carefully nuanced acting together with her cyclonic singing and dancing in the brilliantly staged rendition of Bitch/Losing my Religion followed by Kathryn’s Turn in the second half of the show, is every bit as riveting as the iconic Roses Turn in Gypsy – to which it pays obvious homage, and marks her as a top-shelf musical theatre leading lady.

Equally impressive as Kathryn’s venal accomplice, Sebastian Valmont, Drew Weston is a stylish singer and dancer who’s not afraid to flaunt his nude buff bod in the services of art or seduction as Kathryn’s venal accomplice, Sebastian Valmont, in an unholy duo you love to hate.

The strong supporting cast includes Francine Cain in a very funny comedic performance as the enthusiastic and willing seductee of the pair. Kelsey Hodge shines as the not-so-naïve Annette Hargrove who ultimately causes the downfall of both Sebastian and Kathryn.

Euan Fistrovic Doidge, soon to be seen in the leading role of a new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, together with Joseph Spanti as his college-jock boyfriend, provide the obligatory gay content, while Rishab Kern and Fem Belling add spice to the proceedings as Cecile’s cello teacher, and her stitched-up mother.

The talented ensemble, which include Sheridan Adams, Darcey Eagle, Etuate Lutui, Daniel Evbachev and Morgan Heynes, who together understudy all the leading roles, are kept busy moving, James Browne’s beautiful, versatile setting around the stage, while at the same time executing Freya List’s inventive choreography. They manage this multi-tasking with considerable panache, as does Daniel Puckey and his punchy band, which can be glimpsed up-stage, high above the proceedings.

Particularly notable among the excellent production values for this show are the imaginative contributions of the sound, lighting and video designers, particularly the remarkable video projections which throughout the show cover the setting with the lyrics of the songs, not for the audience to sing to, but as part of the visual design, as well as accent the thoughts of the characters.

While some may find the subject matter unsavoury, Cruel Intentions is a slickly produced and performed smart, sophisticated adult musical, with exemplary production values, which received an enthusiastic reception on its Canberra opening night from the predominately young audience.

Cruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 5 October 2022
Season continues to 8 October 2022

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Image: Kirby Burgess and Drew Weston in Cruel Intentions – The 90’s Musical – photo by Nicole Cleary

Review: Bill Stephens OAM