We love a good nostalgia fix, and Cruel Intentions: The Musical does just that. The production, which is now playing at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York City’s West Village, has everything you could ask for in a show highlighting the best of the ’90s—including a steady stream of your favorite pre-Millenium hits. In between listening to the Cruel Intentions characters—made iconic by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair in 1999—manipulate and seduce each other using the movie’s exact dialogue, you get to hear them belt out everything from “I Want It That Way” to “I Don’t Wanna Wait.” It’s magical, and not just because the supremely talented cast nail their respective roles (which they do) or because it’s fun to hear your favorite old school jams belted out by some of your all-time favorite characters (which it is).
No, what’s truly magical about Cruel Intentions: The Musical is that it reminds us of a simpler time. A time when you had to navigate love triangles in person. A time before sexting. A time when there was no such thing as swiping right or sliding into someone’s DMs. That’s not to say it was an age of innocence, obviously, as Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont very well remind us both onscreen in the film and onstage in its latest incarnation. There was plenty of scandal, drugs, and sex to go around the Upper East Side, and our beloved characters managed to ruin lives just with one call from a flip phone.
Of course, in a world of such excess, nothing was ever enough to satisfy Kathryn and Sebastian as they tortured their playthings, Cecile Caldwell and Annette Hargrove. And while the pre-Gossip Girl look at Manhattan’s teenaged elite was chock full of darkness and narcissism, we can't help but wish we were a part of it all every time we re-watch Cruel Intentions. Luckily, Cruel Intentions: The Musical hits all of the same notes.
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Seriously, it’s 110 minutes of pure ‘90s nostalgia bliss. After two previous sold-out runs in Los Angeles and a brief pop-up stint in New York last February, the musical officially opened last night. It’s been building buzz for weeks now, thanks to Broadway stars like Ben Platt and Jonathan Groff checking out the production during previews. We caught a performance over the weekend ourselves and can confirm with certainty: this is one production that you do not want to miss. Luckily, you have plenty of chances as the anticipated run has already been extended through Feb. 19. Scroll down for 9 things any Cruel Intentions fan will love about the show, and for tickets, go to cruelmusical.com.
1. Kathryn and Sebastian’s Intense Chemistry
Constantine Rousouli and Lauren Zakrin both nail their impersonations of the manipulative step-siblings, and their stage chemistry is off the charts. But the best part of the relationship between Kathryn and Sebastian is arguably their duets, which are actually more like dueling solos. Just picture Kathryn belting out a powerful rendition of Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains” as Sebastian simultaneously launches into N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye.” Then envision Kathryn’s angsty rendition of Meredith Brooks’s “I’m a Bitch” met with an appropriate response from Sebastian: R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion.” Brilliant.
2. All of the PDA
There’s a ton of making out in the movie, and the play doesn’t turn down the heat one bit. Sebastian pretty much kisses everyone at one point or another, but it’s the movie’s steamy scene between Kathryn and never-been-kissed Cecile (played by Jessie Shelton) that really takes the cake. That's because it's preceded by an ever-appropriate rendition of “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, and really, what '90s song could be more fitting?
3. Cecile’s Sexual Awakening
Ah, Cecile. After getting to first base for the first time with Kathryn, she experiences another first with Sebastian: an orgasm. Of course, she only realizes what happened to her body after Kathryn explains it to her, prompting the former virgin to burst into an inspired rendition of “I Saw the Sign” by Ace of Base. Later, she treats us to a slow jam, opting for Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” as she mounts Sebastian and does an impressive split on his lap. Her backup dancers for the number? Ronald, Blaine, and Greg, all decked out in red bedazzled hoodies.
4. Annette and Sebastian’s Duets
The tragic love story at the center of the film is just as gut-wrenching in the musical. Annette (Carrie St. Louis) put her feelings on display while serenading Sebastian with Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” and the pair's duets throughout the performance are top-notch. It’s hard not to smile when they sing The Cardigans’ “Lovefool (Say That You Love Me)” to reenact the film’s famous pool scene (which ends with a gratuitous shot of Sebastian’s very naked and very toned backside), and it’s downright endearing when they sing “Colorblind” by the Counting Crows while getting intimate for the first time. Standing behind a white sheet, we get a shadowy look at the couple as they start hooking up while softly proclaiming, “I Am Ready.” Drama at it's finest, people.
5. The Love Story Between Blaine and Greg
In the film, Blaine and Greg don’t get too much screen time. But in the musical, they’re front and center. The romance between scheming Blaine Tuttle and closeted high school jock Greg McConnell was simply a means to an end: by blackmailing Greg, who was from Annette's hometown, Sebastian was able to further worm his way into her heart. While that is very much a part of their story in the musical, there’s more depth to their blossoming relationship. They sing Britney Spears’s “Sometimes” and Marcy Playground’s “Sex & Candy” as the sparks continue to fly, even after Greg realizes that he was just a pawn in their game.
6. Kathryn singing Genie In A Bottle.
Kathryn Merteuil is many things. She’s, as she so eloquently puts it, the “Marcia f—ing Brady of the Upper East Side.” She’s an evil step-sister. She’s a manipulative mastermind who takes joy in others’ pain. She claims to be “just a girl” while giving us a taste of the No Doubt classic. And as it turns out, she's also a “Genie in a Bottle.” At least, according to her belted-out version of the Christina Aguilera hit. It’s a pretty hilarious choice in song, and it’s taken so seriously that you start to believe that she might in fact grant your next wish.
7. Bunny Caldwell singing “No Scrubs”
Home Improvement star Patricia Richardson is perfect in her role as Cecile’s wealthy, uptight mother, Bunny Caldwell. When she disapproves of Cecile’s romance with her piano teacher, Ronald, Bunny launches into a surprising solo: TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Then, she's back to her uncool self, telling Ronald he should be grateful to her for getting him “off the streets.” He reminds her that he lives on 59th and Park, and that's that.
8. Sebastian’s emotional solo
Kathryn criticizes Sebastian for trying to change his ways for Annette, and she really gets in his head when she tells him that they’re two of a kind and he’ll never really change. Sebastian is wrecked as he realizes that she’s probably right (even though we all know she’s not), and he goes on to deliver a heartfelt rendition of “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. Because when everything’s meant to be broken, he just wants everyone to know who he is, damn it.
9. The Bittersweet Symphony of it all
After Sebastian’s death, the story unfolds just as it does in the movie. Kathryn’s speech memorializing her step-brother is interrupted by Annette and Cecile passing out photocopied pages from his manifesto. Her world begins to crumble and her rosary-hidden cocaine stash is confiscated as the stars walk around the venue, passing out entries from the OG Burn Book. Kathryn starts singing the theme song that's become synonymous with Cruel Intentions, “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve. The rest of the cast joins in, and don’t worry—the audience gets to sing along at the end, too.
The verdict? This symphony is way sweeter than it is bitter.