At the Broadway Playhouse
By Dan Zeff
Chicago –“Cruel Intentions” is a jukebox musical playing for two weeks at the Broadway Playhouse. Its immediate ancestor is a 1999 motion picture that was adapted from a famous 18th century French novel. But “Cruel Intentions” really passes itself off as a hip jukebox musical built on a score of pop and rock songs from the 1990’s.
The show has played, apparently with some box office success in both in L.A. and New York City since its premiere in 2015. On opening night in Chicago, a claque of predominantly young women in the audience repeatedly screamed their pleasure at what they were seeing and hearing on the stage. I wish I could share even a smidgeon of their approval, but I thought the evening was a misery.
The ancestor of “Cruel Intentions” traces is a 1783 French novel called “Les Liaisons dangereuses” (“Dangerous Liaisons”). The novel deals with a libertine named Valmont and his equally immoral mistress Merteuil, who enjoy sexually corrupting trusting and innocent young women. “Cruel Intentions” is transplanted from licentious 18th century France to a modern New York City prep school. The adult seducers of the novel become the teenager Kathryn Merteuil and her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont. The malicious duo make a wager. If Sebastian deflowers the virgin Annette Hargrove, he wins a night of sex with his stepsister. If he fails, she wins Sebastian’s car. Nice kids!
The wager is probably as good a premise as any in a sex comedy but “Cruel Intentions” can’t decide whether or not it should be funny or taken seriously. But that’s a minor grievance compared to the vulgarity and silliness that surges through the production. The show injects explicitly gross gay humor and a bit of lesbian action, along with some misguided racial contention to further muddy the story. We are also treated to a glimpse of male nudity possibly to rouse the female claque to even greater heights of squealing.
The narrative might have held up with spot-on staging and casting. But the directing, to use a courtly synonym, is delinquent in all matters of taste. The 10-member ensemble is considerably underqualified in the acting realm though there are some strong singing voices that received rapturous approval from the zealot fans in the audience, but the 1990’s songs don’t contribute much to the forward thrust of the storyline. The show might have been better as a straight concert. It couldn’t have been worse. The choreography ranges from elemental to grotesquely over the top. A teenage character named Cecile, undergoing a sudden sexual awakening, is lumbered with grotesque erotic writhing that never should have made it through the first day of rehearsal.
I am not familiar with the songs that populate the show, recorded by performers like PLACEBO, No Doubt, the Cardigans, Garbage, and Marcy Playground. I couldn’t understand some of the lyrics, but I will defer to the approval of the young members in the audience. In any case, the songs aren’t enough to salvage the show from its insufferable lapses, whether the intent was attempting to be humorous or serious. I can’t recall a show cluttered with so much misguided material.
It may be that “Cruel Intentions” was actually entertaining on both the west and east coasts with productions that profited from more professional skill levels in all the key artistic categories. But after enjoying recent accomplished road versions of “Anastasia,” “A Bronx Tale,” and “Jersey Boys,” it was a really downer to witness a musical with so many miscalculations in so many crucial areas. I don’t care how much enthusiasm gushed from sections of the opening night audience. This production is a clinker.
The show gets a rating of.
“Cruel Intentions” runs through April 14 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut Street. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $72. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. April 2019
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