Iconic Intentions and then some

Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical (David Venn Enterprises)

Home of the Arts

January 20 – 28

“Let’s do this!” Kathryn Merteuil (Kirby Burgess) proclaims as The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ swells over the final scenes of “Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical” in recreation of its source material’s iconic conclusion. This musical, created Jordan Ross, Linsey Rosin and Roger Kumble (writer and director of the film of the same name), however, is more than just an on-stage recreation of its 1999 Hollywood namesake.

Filled with throwback hits, it is more of ‘90s jukebox musical arranged around faithful recreation of the cult-hit film’s narrative about two vicious step-siblings, Mertevil and Sebastian Valmont (Drew Weston) who, fuelled by passion and revenge, make a wager for Sebastian to deflower the innocent daughter of their elite Manhattan prep school’s new headmaster before the start of term. As the two set out to destroy Annette Hargrove (Kelsey Halge), as well as anyone else who gets in their way, they find themselves playing a perilous game in what is a modern-day telling of the 1782 French novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos , faithful in its recreation of another of its adaptions, “Dangerous Liaisons”.

Things remain true to the film with inclusion of iconic ‘Kiss Me’ type scenes and “silly rabbit” dialogue quips, however, familiarity with the source material is not required to enjoy the high-energy spectacle on stage as, under Alister Smith’s direction, the plot is made efficiently accessible. This is aided by Craig Wilkinson’s striking video design which serves to emphasise the main take-aways from character interactions and allows for a final focus on the damming text of Valmont’s journal. Simple (and seamless) scene transitions keep things moving with smooth blocking allow for, as an example, speedy transitions between four separate conversations as plans fall into place to allow Sebastian’s woo of Annette to occur. And Declan O’Neill’s stunning lighting design heightens key emotional moments.

Storytelling is also enhanced by intertwined placement of appropriately lyric-ed ‘90s era classics with a score that includes  back to back hits, including by Britney, Christina and alike. Indeed, there are many highlights from amongst the score’s different musical personalities. Performing from scaffold above the stage, revealed at various times throughout the show, the band’s musicians (David Youings, Chris Connelly, Anthony Chircop, Michael Chewter, Toby Loveland, Glen Moorehouse and Sam Blackburn) are also given individual opportunities to shine through the versatile set list. Annette’s entrance is to a rocking guitar and drum filled ‘Just a Girl’, while Counting Crows’ ‘Color Blind’ contains contemplative piano to accent the magnitude of Sebastian’s mood late in Act Two. And *NSYNC pop and TLC R&B boy and girl group numbers elicit overwhelming response as clear audience favourites.

Surprisingly perhaps, there is a sophistication to the musical’s score that elevates the show’s craftedness as songs are cut, sliced and melded together, including in a brilliant Act One closing overlapping medley of many of its songs. And Act Two includes a memorable ‘Bitch’ and ‘Losing My Religion’ mashup from Burgess and Weston. Freya List’s choreography also captures the core intent of songs in character revelation and plot progression, with ‘Sex and Candy’ between Blaine (Ross Chisari) and the closeted Greg (Joseph Spanti) who is about to be blackmailed by Sebastian, standing as a playful highlight. And Isaac Lummis’s costume design is all 90s and also of the film, down to even the detail of jewellery and accessories.

There are no weak links in the talented cast of performers who are each given individual moments to shine. Playing a well-known character on stage that someone else has portrayed so iconically in film can come with some expectation, however, Burgess adds her own touches of hurt-people-hurt-people humanity to the scheming seductress Kathryn, stealing the show with her fierce portrayal and rich vocal tones, from her very first ‘I’m the Only One’ appearance which conveys impressive intonation in its Bonnie Raitt like belt.

Weston, meanwhile, gives us a strong ‘Iris’, while Halge makes her following ‘Foolish Games’ heartbreaking in its stirring emotion. Rishab Kern’s (as music teacher Ronald) vocals are also impressive in his share of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ with his character’s forbidden lover Cecile (Sarah Krndija) when the two are pushed together as unknowing pawns in Kathryn and Sebastian’s game. And though ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman’ feels narratively superfluous, Fem Belling, as Cecile’s mother, gives it the necessary, empowering vocal oomph.

In a story of highly sexualised characters, Krndija’s more wholesome Cecile is an absolute delight. Always angular in movement, she captures the awkwardness of the quirky character, new arrived and clearly childish, naive, spoiled and inexperienced, making her an easy target to Kathryn’s self-motivated manipulations. And her Boyz II Mean seduction attempt is a hilarity of well-timed physical comedy and perfectly pitched exaggeration.

If opening night is any indication, “Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical” is sure to be a popular trip down ‘90s memory lane. Its experience of debauchery (its warning notes the show’s nudity, course language and adult content), discman and a dash of Dawson’s Creek type tunes is at-once glossy and gritty, provocative, but also still somewhat problematic in its narrative. In terms of nostalgia, however, this is pure infectious celebration of an era. You will need to get your guilty pleasure on quickly though as its limited season means that the show will be saying ‘Bye Bye Bye’ before you know it.

Photos c/o – Nicole Cleary

Dancing to the beat of audience hearts

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage (John Frost, Karl Sydow, Martin McCallum & Joye Entertainment in association with Lionsgate & Magic Hour Productions)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

May 28 – July 19

“Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage” is one of those ‘it is what it is’ shows; it is far from high culture and hardly groundbreaking theatre, but for fans of the movie (and let’s face it, what gal isn’t?) this doesn’t really matter. What matters is the experience and its fidelity to the feelings generated in response to the much-loved 1997 film.

The story has not changed. It’s the summer of 1963 and 17 year old Frances (Baby) Houseman is on holidays at Kelleman’s resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents. When she stumbles upon a staff dance party, her life is changed forever as she is steps in to become the resort dance instructor Johnny Castle’s partner in dance and more.


Scenes are faithful to the movie, down to the smallest nuances of movement and reaction, however, intimate moments do not always translate in emotion to a large venue staging. Perhaps to stretch out what is only a 100 minute movie, the stage show features the addition of some extra scenes, often with the focus on emphasising the turbulent political climate of its 1960s context, however, these are unnecessary and not in keeping with the feel of the story.


Certainly establishment of this context is important, as is highlighted in the display of information in the QPAC tunnel, however, ultimately this is a coming-of-age story that has transcended this to become more about its cheesy one-liners – think, “I carried a watermelon” and “nobody puts baby in the corner.”


Kirby Burgess is a charmingly naïve and idealistic Baby, bringing, at times, a depth to the character that touches on the story’s feminist discourse, balanced with an inner dag that explodes in her secret solo dance practice “Wipeout” scene. As the sexy dance instructor, Johnny, Kurt Phelan is very Hugh Jackman-esque in his demeanour – all hunk of manly man of experience with all the right dance moves. And their bedroom bungalow scene is as hot as ever.

Adam Murphy and Penny Martin put in solid performances are Baby’s parents who feature more in the stage show due to a number of Act Two filler scenes. Although the fleshing out of their characters is largely unnecessary (it is not the sort of show requiring fully-formed characters), they keep things grounded. Murphy, in particular, should be commended for his portrayal of a character so iconically brought to life by the late Jerry Orbach, for to command the stage as he does in a scene in which he never even speaks a word, is the mark of an accomplished performer.

This ‘you let me down too daddy’ scene represents one of the few times the show’s momentum pauses for breath. Act One especially begins with a whirlwind (and sometimes clunkily transitioned) tour through its introductory scenes and perhaps, consequently, by the time Act Two arrives, the energy is beginning to wane. The soundtrack, however, is full of energy in its evocation of the era, leaving the audience wanting more than just abbreviated versions of some of the movie’s iconic songs.


The problem is its confused identity as it is made clear that his is not a musical, but instead a dance show. And while the dancing is good and fully of energy, it lacks variety beyond raising legs high overhead, accompanied with some bumping and grinding. The moves are indeed impressive…. on first observation. With repetition, the desire is for something a little bit more. Attempts to add interest are included in staging with the projection of grass and water for the learning to dance montage which are effective in recreating the movie’s imagery, however, when Johnny ‘drives’ Baby back to the Kellermans after their dance performance at the nearby Sheldrake resort, it is in an imaginary car, which brings laughs to the scene for all the wrong reasons.

“Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage” is a nostalgic nod to a much loved film, sure to dance to the beat of fan’s hearts. It’s a perfect girls night out, complete with catchy songs, frozen watermelon daiquiris and a whole lot of pink, but it is what it is – a Clayton’s musical of questionable quality.