Opening to the strains of Placebo's "Every You Every Me" and ending with The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony", the musical version of Cruel Intentions is a veritable '90s pop fest. It shamelessly and gloriously revels in some of the best tunes that decade spewed out, using emo refrains alongside peppy loved-up lyrics to illustrate the evil machinations in the lives of some pretty f*cked-up high school students.
Based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the 1999 movie turned out to be the end of Sarah Michelle Gellar's high-school movie career (symbolising the true demise of the era), and was arguably her final vaguely decent movie (unless you count The Grudge or Scooby Doo). It chronicled step-brother and sister Sebastian and Kathryn's nasty bet that Sebastian couldn't deflower a committed virgin and wreck the lives of all their classmates along the way. And now, Cruel Intentions makes its musical debut in this country, having opened off-Broadway in 2017.
And let's just put this out there first: the musical is pretty ridiculous. It powers through the tunes, using the likes of The Cardigans' "Lovefool" to denote Sebastian and Kathryn's sordid feelings for each other, or Ace of Base's "The Sign" (total tune) to show the point when naïve Cecile discovers she's had an orgasm. The songs are placed both entirely aptly and hilariously and will give a thrill to anyone who grew up during the time of Tamagotchis and slap bracelets. The night I saw it there was a lot of swaying and singing along from the audience.
The songs themselves have been arranged by Zach Spound and are overseen by musical director Sarah Morrison so that they're faithful reproductions with a musical theatre tinge. It's a show that, thankfully, is definitely not afraid to poke fun at itself, like when TLC's "No Scrubs" gets rolled out, performed with punch and vigour by Gemma Salter as Bunny and Ashley Samuels as Ronald. Jonathan O'Boyle's direction is fairly low-key, relying on few props or scene changes and allowing the excellent cast to do their thing with the dappy, highly improbable characters.
Whether or not the characters are layered doesn't really matter here, but one of its main draws is nevertheless its stars, which come in the form of Sophie Isaacs as religious headmaster's daughter Anette, Evelyn Hoskins as geek Cecile, Rebecca Gilhooley as evil Kathryn, Dominic Anderson as very nasty Sebastian, Dean John Wilson as gay-but-not-gay Greg and Scott Hunter as definitely-gay Blaine alongside Samuels and Salter. There are six packs-a-plenty and Anderson is the spitting for a young Josh Hartnett (not in the original film, but he might as well have been). Isaacs is a fairly restrained presence but when she sings "Torn" it brings the house down. Hoskins is a great kooky, over-the-top Cecile.
While there are quite a lot of questionable, fairly dated elements to the movie – not least the fact that these sex-crazed psychos are all basically children – the point of the show is placed elsewhere. It's pretty much a scene-for-scene reproduction of the original (although it does steam through proceedings at a pace) and is a chance to listen to those songs sung by great talents. Its intention, cruel or otherwise, is a massive nostalgia-fest. And that is exactly what you get.