Blessed by the presence of Cruel Intentions royalty—Sarah Michelle Gellar herself—the opening night of Los Angeles’ new production Cruel Intentions: The Musical had a full house of ’90s kids eating up every deliciously campy turn, even before American Idol alum and Faking It star Katie Stevens delivered that famous Kathryn line with perfectly poisoned precision.
“I’m the Marcia fucking Brady of the Upper East Side,” she snarled to raucous applause, “and sometimes I want to kill myself.”
Based on the sordid teen flick about manipulation, seduction, and true love at an upper crust Manhattan private school that starred Gellar, Ryan Philippe, and Reese Witherspoon (and spawned two regrettable direct-to-DVD sequels—one starring Amy Adams), the show is officially dubbed Cruel Intentions: The Completely Unauthorized Musical Parody—all the better for claiming fair use.
It’s really much more tongue-in-cheek homage than spoof, a jukebox musical of soundtrack earworms and Now That’s What I Call The ’90s pop that brings the soapy 1999 film to life in the same intimate Los Feliz cabaret theater where Jeff Goldblum has been known to tickle the ivories in a jazz combo.
“We call it a love letter to the movie,” director Lindsey Rosin explained between rehearsals for Cruel Intentions’ second week. “It’s a movie we love, and we understand all of its ridiculousness—but we love that about it.”
Rosin, an L.A.-raised playwright, screenwriter, and author who most recently adapted a From Prada To Nada pilot for Lionsgate and MTV and has her first book, a young adult “female American Pie” romp, en route next year from Simon & Schuster, teamed up with writer Jordan Ross in January to mount the show, lifting the most quotable dialogue straight from the film and songs from the era.
Their scrappy Cruel Intentions musical is a pop mash-up medley scripted and staged with a superfan’s obsessive attention to detail.
“Cruel Intentions, for a lot of people our age, has resonated and stayed with them—particularly for Jordan,” said Rosin. “I’ll just embarrass him: When he was 13, he invited Sarah Michelle Gellar to his bar mitzvah, and obviously did not hear back.” Making good on that invite over 15 years later, Gellar posed for photos with the cast and crew on opening night. “He took a picture with her and posted it on his Facebook with the caption, ‘Dear 13-year-old Jordan: You’re welcome.’”
The show drips with perfectly mashed-up, unapologetic nostalgia, like when Kathryn teases stepbro and partner in crime Sebastian (Constantine Rousouli) with Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” and the promise that he can “put it anywhere,” or when the virginal Annette (Molly McCook) warbles No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” in a fit of repressed good-gal rebellion.
February previews led to the addition of 20 minutes of scenes and a Backstreet Boys/*NSYNC-themed medley for Blaine’s gay romance with closeted jock Greg, because “if you’re going to do a ’90s homosexual storyline, there’s got to be some boy bands and Britney Spears.”
That subplot pairing also adds balance to one sequence, set to Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” that sees three couples swap spit in a twist on the famous smooch that won Cruel Intentions the only MTV Movie Award that ever mattered: Best Kiss.
On opening night, eyes in the room couldn’t help but flit toward Gellar, Manchester Prep’s original cocaine cross-toting sociopathic socialite, who shared a table with her onscreen co-star Sean Patrick Thomas.
“#cruelintentionsthemusical was insanely good,” Gellar later posted amidst a series of Instagram and Twitter posts. “#KilledIt. I absolutely ♥ it. #Rockwell #KatieStevens was amazing as #Kathryn and #constantinerousouli nailed #Sebastian. Seriously the entire cast was genius.”
Also in the house was writer-director Roger Kumble, who adapted Cruel Intentions from the 18th-century novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses and praised the musical after catching the previews. He’s also reportedly been working on his own stage adaptation, sans ’90s pop tunes.
“Roger Kumble came to previews and to opening night, and to get a blessing from Roger was important,” Rosin beamed.
Gellar & Co. giggled along as Cruel Intentions: The Musical re-created every memorable movie moment, hitting a crescendo as the live band struck the first tinkling notes of Counting Crows’ “Colorblind.”
“It’s one of my favorite moments,” Rosin said of the scene when bad boy Sebastian and innocent Annette finally make sweet, sweet love. “When the piano intro starts on ‘Colorblind,’ they all know that it’s coming. For a lot of people, that was the first sex scene that they were exposed to in a movie.”
Probed about Cruel Intentions: The Musical ’s bigger picture goals, Rosin says she and her collaborators aren’t yet planning to expand the musical beyond its run in L.A., where their cast members are also splitting time between other stage and TV commitments. For now, the show is scheduled to play the Rockwell stage through June.
True fans tend to have one other burning query for Rosin: They want to know if The Verve’s soundtrack-defining anthem made it into the show.
“The other question everybody always asks is, ‘Do you end with ‘Bittersweet Symphony?’” Rosin laughed. “Of course! I think it would be sacrilegious not to.”