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"Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical," show #872

In prep for seeing Jordon Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble’s musical adaptation of the 90s cult-classic, Cruel Intentions, I re-watched said cult classic. This was a film where I—surprisingly—still knew much of the iconic lines and scenes by memory. In short, the film does not hold up in today’s 2023 cinematic sensitivities, so thank the heavens for this musical! With the use of iconic 90s/early-2000s music, the jukebox score of pop/rock/boyband songs makes the Cruel Intentions we remember from three decades ago sing with hilarity, a dose of poignancy, and the same social commentary of affecting human choice as it relates to destroying or loving one another.

(Downstage: Jake Gale (Sebastian), flanked by Cast of Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical; Photo credit: Jon Bauer)

For anyone who has seen a show at Ray of Light Theatre, a title like Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical is a musical right up their alley. It’s productions like this they don’t just produce with competence, but completely knock out of the park. Director/choreographer Leslie Waggoner has helmed a visual delight with her choreography and an impeccably paced musical. Waggoner leaves no joke or wink to the audience unturned, ensuring that the audience is as much in on the jokes as the cast. All of the iconic lines, jokes, and bits are present, and Waggoner gives due diligence to staging them with 90s-aura truth. But what elevates this otherwise fun version of the musical into a legitimately done piece of musical theatre is Waggoner’s staging of “Colorblind.” Nearly every dance turn prior to the act two ballad is filled to the brim with energy, music video re-creations, and athletic dance turns; but “Colorblind” is a more still, heart-wrenching, methodical, and is a lyrically-staged gem. Waggoner has the ensemble create the train station (an airport in the film) that Sebastian runs through to confess his love to Annette. The ensemble’s turnstile arm movements, formation-work, and collective shifts are stunning and completely hit a level of creativity I was pleasantly taken aback by. It was an earned, deserved moment of calm amidst the high-octane energy Waggoner otherwise demands of the principals and ensemble, and it was executed with stunning precision.

(Chelsea Holifield (Kathryn) and Jake Gale (Sebastian); Photo credit: Jon Bauer)

Jake Gale and Chelsea Holifield lead the cast as the cruel step-siblings, Sebastian and Kathryn. The plot is the same as the film: a bet between the two which exploits innocent-enough classmates to get into bed with them. If Sebastian wins, he gets whoopee time with Kathryn; if Kathryn wins, she gets Sebastian’s car. Truly, it’s about defeating one another. Gale and Holifield are in perfect voice and calculating acting delivery to portray the roles made infamous by Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar while making the characters their own. Gale’s voice is stellar in every song he’s assigned, but is highlighted especially well in the “Prelude/Every You, Every Me” and the aforementioned “Colorblind,” the latter of which shows off his acting chops as he gets the audience as close to feeling the allowed amount of sympathy for him. Holifield is a dynamite singer-actress, belting out the iconic “I’m the Only One” and teaming up with Gale for a fantastic “Genie in a Bottle.” The act two “Kathryn’s Turn” requires Holifield to work too hard so late in the show, but she succeeds in a way that garners her the proper rapturous applause for an 11 0’clock number.

(Marah Sotelo (Annette); Photo credit: Jon Bauer)

Marah Sotelo delivers a sincerely sweet Annette, object of Sebastian’s energy, and then affection. The chemistry between Sotelo and Gale is developed as the slow burn it’s written to be, and reaches a burning point in their terrific turn at “Torn.” Sotelo’s solo, “Foolish Games,” exudes emotion, complemented by her controlled vocal power and well-inflected attention to the lyrics which drive her journey with Sebastian. Doug Greer and Samuel Prince, as closeted-jock Greg and gets-Greg-out-of-the-closet partner Blaine, respectively, steal the show with an act one back-to-back turn of “Sex and Candy” and “Bye Bye Bye,” the latter complete with homage paid to the boy band-ography we’ve come to know and love from the N’SYNC hit. Featured turns from Anne Norland as Cecile and Anne Clark as Bunny Caldwell/Dr. Greenbaum fill out the cast sublimely. Norland’s throw-caution-to-the-wind turn at Boyz 2 Men’s “I’ll Make to Love to You” filled the theater with teenage-sexual angst and required me to set down my concessions so I could applaud with all the enthusiasm the song warranted. Clark is terrific fun in her maternal turn at “No Scrubs” when protesting the relationship between her daughter and music instructor, Ronald (played by a most-charming Marshall Forte).

(Jake Gale (Sebastian) and Anne Norland (Cecille); Photo credit: Jon Bauer)

Technically, Matt Owens’s multi-level set is stunning. Having alcoves serve as spaces for poses, backup singing, and leering brings a “we’re always watching” vibe to the musical, which supports Waggoner’s staging magnificently. Weili Shi’s lighting design is magic in its concert-like energy and intimately-set specials. Music Director Jad Bernardo has a stellar sound going through with the band and vocal chops given by all in the cast.

(Jake Gale (Sebastian) and Cast of Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical; Photo credit: Jon Bauer)

While Cruel Intentions may have its cinematic relevancy saved for the past, this musical adaptation has tons to love and is wildly entertaining. You have until October 1st to see if you haven’t, or to see it again if you have. Go see this show!

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