Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical

COVID had ‘Cruel Intentions’ but the Musical was having none of it

The smash-hit musical, ‘Cruel Intentions’ will see the Fortitude Valley Musical Hall transported back to celebrate 90s nostalgia.

Based on the popular film of the same name that stars Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar, this event will also mark a significant milestone for its cast, crew and producers who, like so many in the industry, have had to navigate everything COVID could throw at them.

For Rishab Kern, who stars as Ronald Clifford in the production, returning to Brisbane will also be a homecoming of sorts. Kern spent the past three years studying a Bachelor of Acting at Queensland’s University of Technology (QUT) during the pandemic, so landing a job in a large touring musical fresh out of university is a dream – especially since it almost never happened due to the everchanging situations of COVID-19: “Graduating through a pandemic is honestly so challenging and I was definitely one of the luckier graduates being in Queensland with minimal restrictions.”

Cruel Intentions - Rishab Kern
Brissie local Rishab Kern joins the cast of ‘Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical’ as Ronald Clifford.

While excited to be joining ‘Cruel Intentions’ Australian premiere tour, Kern tells the story of how one of his fellow castmates was struck down by the “spicy cough” during the rehearsal process for the show. But the cast bonded quickly early on and knew they wouldn’t let the virus stand in their way: “Our amazing understudies stepped up and we had zoom call-ins and honestly COVID tried and we said no!”

 Perhaps it’s the sense of dodging the COVID bullet that makes Kern come across as such an optimist.  Even through an email exchange, that personality trait shines through. Kern’s also confident that Brisbane audiences will feel the joy after seeing ‘Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical’ when it opens this week at the Fortitude Valley Musical Hall. 

“Look honestly there’s nothing this show doesn’t do – it makes you cry, laugh, cheer and best of all it’s to all of your favourite songs,” said Kern. “The ones you listen to in the car, the shower, on your way to work… there aren’t many shows where you can scream [and dance] to TLC and the Backstreet Boys. There really is nothing quite like it.”

 Many eager audience members may be drawn to the musical by a love of the 90s or the banging soundtrack the show has to offer. As a jukebox musical, people can expect hit after hit, from Britney Spears to Boyz II Men, Christina Aguilera and much more. More traditionalists may attend the show due to its source material. ‘Cruel Intentions’ is an adaptation of the 1782 French novel, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. Kern believes this is what makes the storyline so universal – as it’s set in the 1990s, but based on a story from the 1780s and now performed in the 2020s: “It serves as a sort of reminder to look at how far we’ve come and also how we’ve still got some work to do.”

The plot of “Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical” entices audiences into the manipulation world of Manhattan’s most seductive liaisons, where Sebastian and Kathryn are seduced by revenge and fuelled by their desire. The siblings, who are out to destroy the virtuous Annette Hargrove and everyone who stands in their way, find themselves caught in a web of deceit, seduction, and the cruellest game of all: love.

Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical
Rishab Kern as Ronald Clifford, alongside Francine Cain as Cecile.

In a moment of serious reflection, Kern talks about his role as Ronald Clifford, a music teacher, in the musical. Unknown to some, the character is based on the traditionally white character of Chevalier Danceny, a well-to-do man about town. Since the Reece Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe make-over, which is more notorious among fans, that part has been given a shake-up. Kern, who describes his ethnicity as “a whole mix of things” believes that the change speaks to a shift in how the world now views People of Colour (POC).

“Changing the character of Chevalier Danceny to Ronald Clifford and making him an African American male, spoke volumes for me as to how society has viewed people of colour in a hierarchical sense,” said Kern.

“Seeing that in the film, he is Pre-Juilliard, living on 59th and Park, he clearly is doing well for himself. But back in 1782 and even in the 1998 film, we still had this notion that Black people had to struggle and couldn’t make it to the cream of the crop society. I think that’s why the change is so important. To make a statement as to how wrong that assumption is.”

Back in 1782 and even in the 1998 film, we still had this notion that Black people had to struggle and couldn’t make to the cream of the crop society,” said Kern. “I think that’s why the change is so important. To make a statement as to how wrong that assumption is.”

It’s obvious that there are many factors in this show that will draw people to its Brisbane season at the Fortitude Valley Musical Hall, from Friday, 29 July. The Australian tour then moves to Perth, Adelaide and Canberra. Kern reiterates that this show will have something for everyone. 

“There are so many beautiful subtle storylines that ‘Cruel Intentions’ has, while ultimately delivering chart-topping songs one after the other. But it tackles massive themes, like sexism, homophobia, [and] racism. 

“What makes it relevant to today is that it is a perfect reflection as to what the 90s were all about.”

For more information about the show and where to book tickets, visit the official website of ‘Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical’.

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