Cruel Intentions

By Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble/ David Venn Enterprises. Director Alister Smith. Riverside Theatre Parramatta. 3 – 12 Feb, 2023

Reviewed : February 3, 2023*

Photo : Nicole Cleary

David Venn Enterprises (DVE) is busy “creating first class live experiences for audiences around the world”.

·      Their production of Elvis: A Musical Revolution will tour Australia in 2023.

·      Their production of The Wedding Singer is currently touring Australia.

·      And their reprise tour of Cruel Intentions – the 90’s Musical opened to a very hyped, hip audience last night at Parramatta.

Blasting from high behind James Browne’s tall, mobile set and Declan O’Neill’s fluorescent lighting, musical director Daniel Puckey whips his band through a play list of classic 90s hits including Bittersweet Symphony”, “Every You and Every Me”, “Bye Bye Bye”, “Sometimes”, “Just A Girl”, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, “I’ll Make Love To You” and of course “Kiss Me”.

It’s loud, brash and reverberating – and the audience love it! The energy is high and exhilarating, and except for a few ‘dramatic’ moments, director Alister Smith and choreographer Freya List have set the pace for the production at ‘extra fast’. Because, given the very tenuous plot, based somewhat injudiciously on Christopher Hampton’s play Dangerous Liaisons, music, movement and using sex as a weapon is what this show is all about.

Photo : Nicole Cleary

Don’t get me wrong, Smith has guaranteed his cast do a very entertaining ‘tongue-in-cheek’ job with the almost comic-book-bubble dialogue between songs, making the most of every opportunity to push the bold comedy and the risqué camp cheekiness. This is not a production recommended for teenagers – even though they’d love it, especially those who study song and dance. And the characters are supposed to be teenagers after all!

Despite that fact, few teenagers would have the expertise – or energy – to match the very talented cast that Venn Productions has attracted. Or to undergo the rigours of a national tour.

The cast brings to Cruel Intentions a range of experience from a host of musical theatre productions. It includes Kirby Burgess, playing the wily, provocative, red-wigged Kathryn, belting out her songs confidently, her dance moves dexterously and her devious character seductively.

And Drew Weston, who drops a few years to play her libidinous step-brother Sebastion! Though he isn’t quite believable as a teenager, Weston certainly plays the debaucher well, including a brief strip – and a cleverly blocked love scene. Oh, and he sings and dances too! Versatile – and hunky – Weston is relishing the opportunity to play a young, sexy ‘anti-hero’ in a quest to win over a very virtuous heroine.

Kelsey Halge plays Annette, the object of Sebastian’s quest – and his eventual kismet. Halge plays the naïve, ingenue well, her blonde, bobbed wig shining as brightly as her virtuous innocence.

A different sort of innocence is played out by Sarah Krndija as Cecile. Krndija does the awkward, gawky teenage thing very comically, defiantly but cleverly overacting – and in so doing winning the heart of the audience – and her cello teacher, Ronald, played with nice restraint by Rishab Kern, especially in a racist confrontation with Cecile’s mother, depicted delightfully by Fern Belling.

Photo : Nicole Cleary

The very gay and daringly spicy Blaine is a gift of a role for Ross Chisari, who makes the most of every vocal and physical nuance as he tempts his closeted football hero Greg (Joseph Spanti) with Freya List’s brilliant choreography to boy band number “Bye, Bye, Bye”.

Both join the ensemble of dancers in some very tricky and complex routines, their school uniform costumes cunningly designed by Isaac Lummis to allow for some slick moves and ‘dangerous liaisons’ with movable sets and descents from high ladders.

If the range of generations represented in the audience on opening night is any indication, the music – and the memory of the movie – certainly means this production has a wide appeal. And even if you didn’t see the movie or know the music particularly well, the production is worth seeing anyway! Because it’s slick, sexy, suggestive, sassy – and very cleverly directed and performed.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening night