It was a notable hit when it came out — and now “Cruel Intentions,” celebrating its 20th anniversary, comes to town next week in a new guise of a stage musical with all its campiness and sexual hijinks intact.
In the production, wrapping up a national tour, gay actor John Battagliese plays the character of Greg McConnell. The character has been beefed up for the musical version.
An adaptation of the novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses,” “Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical” follows the movie virtually word for word. In Manhattan, wealthy step siblings Sebastian Valmont and Kathryn Merteuil place a bet on whether Sebastian can take the virginity of Annette Hargrove, the headmaster’s daughter. If he loses, Sebastian has to forfeit his vintage 1959 Jaguar Roadster. If he wins, he gets to bed Kathryn, the only woman he can’t have. What the manipulative Sebastian doesn’t expect is that he will fall in love with Annette. The movie version starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Reese Witherspoon, while the earlier “Dangerous Liaisons” had Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer as its key players.
The musical was created by Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross and has had runs in Los Angeles and off-Broadway. “I saw the show when it was done off-Broadway just before it closed,” Battagliese said. “I knew I had to be part of it and went through half a dozen callbacks before landing it.” The production uses some of the original music — most notably “Bittersweet Symphony” — as well as tunes from REM, Christina Aguilera, Boyz II Men, and Britney Spears.
The actor’s character of Greg is the closeted football player. He is a minor character in the movie — used as a pawn tactic in the game between Kathryn and Sebastian — but the stage version fleshes him out as he struggles with coming out.
He feels the patrons of the musical are a combination of new faces and those who jammed to the movie. “For a lot of people, it was an awakening movie for them. It’s not like anything else. I think the original ‘Mean Girls’ and that form of niche teen drama following teens going through adolescence and hormones for the first time, is maybe something people can’t relate to but in their wildest teen fantasies, they’d like to. People who were teenagers when it came out are coming to see it and relive it. Many fans are teenagers now who are discovering it. I think it does stand the test of time, although many of its plot points are not politically correct.”
Having seen the movie and the musical, he’s a little more enamored with the latter. “I love the musical version a little more. There is something special to adding the soundtrack and songs to the scenes. The show is taken from the movie script. There’s this magic of the characters breaking out into songs seamlessly that you wouldn’t think would work but does.”
The performer says that the musical is very campy but the cast plays it straightforward. As a gay man, he also enjoys portraying a gay character for the first time. “As a gay actor, this has been a blast and so freeing. It’s a funny role but there’s truth in it.”
Running through next week is the dark comedy “The Secretaries,” which closes the season for Out Front Theatre Company. It is directed by Heidi Howard, the out artistic director of 7 Stages. It’s a dark comedy that follows the character of Pretty Patty as she joins the secretarial pool at the Cooney Lumber Mill. When things go awry, like the disappearance of male lumberjacks, she realizes that murder may be in the air.
“Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical”
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Through May 18
Out Front Theatre Company