If you were alive in the 90s, you need to get yourself down to LA’s Rockwell Table & Stage to see The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Cruel Intentions. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I attended this past Friday night, but boy did I enjoy every second.
For starters, I am slightly embarrassed to admit this was my first trip to Rockwell in four years of living in LA. I immediately loved how much it reminded me of some of my favorite NYC venues (Joe’s Pub, Rockwood Music Hall, and Birdland all come to mind). The atmosphere is more akin to a concert than a theater production—there’s a bare stage with minimal props rather than a full set, audience members are encouraged to take photos and even video, drinks and food are served throughout (there’s even a button on each table to press when you’re ready for more libations, and you better be ready because there’s a two item minimum), and the cast members frequently move throughout the space. The venue’s table-style seating set-up definitely resulted in some awkward sight lines and close quarters with other audience members, but when everyone is enjoying the same delightful trip down 90s nostalgia memory lane and a couple of Rockwell’s delicious cocktails, it really doesn’t matter.
For anyone who’s unfamiliar (and if you are you should fix that immediately), Cruel Intentions is a 1999 teen adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses set at an elite New York City high school. Written and directed by Roger Kumble, the plot follows devious step-siblings Sebastian and Kathryn as they attempt to achieve some wicked goals. Sebastian wants to add new student Annette, who’s a virgin, to his lengthy list of conquests and Kathryn wants to get revenge on Cecile, the naive classmate Kathryn’s ex-boyfriend dumped her for. They make a bet—if Sebastian fails to deflower Annette, Kathryn gets his expensive car. If Sebastian succeeds, he gets to have sex with Kathryn, the one woman he can’t have. To quote a line from the film (and the musical), “there’s some fucked up shit in this house.”
Rather than original music, this musical parody features exclusively 90s pop tunes. It was honestly as if they hacked into my iTunes—that is how much I adored every song choice. The Goo Goo Dolls, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC (made more amusing by the fact that Lance Bass was in the audience the night I attended, and yes he did the appropriate hand movements to “Bye Bye Bye”), Meredith Brooks, Natalie Imbruglia, Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera, and more were all featured. The two most iconic songs from the film, “Colorblind” by the Counting Crows (unfortunately there was no room for an escalator on the stage) and “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve were performed at the appropriate moments, which made me very happy. The book was often a word-perfect adaptation of the movie, preserving all of the famous lines. The biggest change made by adapter Jordan Ross, executive producer Kate Pazakis, and director Lindsey Rosin was the smart choice to flush out the love story between Blaine Tuttle and Greg McConnell, who were only minor characters in the film but got a more fully realized storyline here.
While the song selections themselves were already perfect, they were made even better by the ridiculously talented cast. The performance I attended was Katie Stevens’s (Faking It, American Idol) last as Kathryn, the role originated by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the movie. She was the perfect mix of sultry and devious and showed off some truly impressive pipes on tunes such as “Genie in a Bottle” and “Bitch,” the latter of which you can get a taste of here. Janel Parrish of Pretty Little Liars fame has now taken over the role. Theater vet John Krause played Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe in the movie) and received mid-song applause for his impressive 11th hour rendition of “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. Molly McCook was a sweet and vulnerable Annette (Reese Witherspoon), particularly shining on popular 90s ballad “Torn.” Emma Hunton, whose fantastic performance as Elphaba in the national tour of Wicked I wrote about back in January, received a lot of laughs for her hilarious and intentionally awkward portrayal of Cecile (Selma Blair). The small cast was rounded out by Tyler Scheef as Blaine, Spencer Strong Smith as Greg, Alexander Pimentel as Ronald, and Leah Sprecher as Cecile’s mother. There was truly not a weak link, and the actors all seemed to be having the time of their lives. Based on the number of tears shed at curtain call in celebration of Stevens’s final performance, it’s clear they’re a close-knit group, as well.
While it may technically be a “parody,” the musical was honestly no more ridiculous than the original movie. Sure, the insertion of the thematically appropriate pop songs often caused the audience to break into laughter and cheers, but the over-the-top tone was perfectly appropriate for an outrageous story. I was very impressed by how well it all worked. The show got quite a well-deserved publicity boost a few weeks back when Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Selma Blair attended a performance together and caused quite a social media frenzy. It was in fact Gellar’s second visit to the show—she also attended opening night back in April. If this show is good enough for the original Marcia fucking Brady of the Upper East Side to visit not once but twice, it’s certainly good enough for you.
Tickets are currently on sale through July 31st, with performances on Thursday and Friday nights only. To purchase and for more information, visit Rockwell’s site as well as the show’s official Twitter account.