Sexual Awakenings and ’90s Nostalgia Fuel the ‘Cruel Intentions’ Musical

The cast of Cruel Intentions. Jenny Anderson

It’s Sunday afternoon at (Le) Poisson Rouge and an audience of young women are squealing after a surprisingly heartfelt rendition of Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.”

The solo was the climax of the Cruel Intentions musical, and the raucous atmosphere was, no doubt, aided by the venue’s two-item purchase requirement—which meant a steady flow of cocktails for many at the 3 p.m. matinée. Musicals are experiencing something of a nostalgic moment, from Mean Girls to SpongeBob SquarePants, and now, cult classic Cruel Intentions is getting into the action with a downtown show, complete with jaded teenagers and a (literally) killer ’90s soundtrack.

For those who somehow missed the 1999 film that boosted the careers of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Reese Witherspoon, it’s a twisted, depraved look at Upper East Side teens, modeled after Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s four-volume tome published in the 18th century.

While it might be a version of dinner (or cocktail) theatre, where the audience sings along and screams for their favorite songs, Constantine Rousouli—who plays Valmont and croons the Goo Goo Dolls number—thinks the atmosphere only adds to the performance. After all, (Le) Poisson Rouge is best known for ’80s and ’90s themed dance nights that are rife with nostalgia. “Being in an immersive space at a nightlife venue creates a really cool energy, that the actors and audience are on this wild ride together,” he said, pointing out that Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and Counting Crows’ “Colorblind” are crowd favorites for sing-alongs.

Co-creators Jordan Ross and Lindsay Rosin, developed the concept for this musical in Los Angeles, where it debuted in April 2015, before moving on to New York. The often sold-out show opened at (Le) Poisson Rouge in December 2017 and will be running through April; soon, Ariana Grande’s brother Frankie will join the cast. Co-creator, Lindsay Rosin credits the musical’s success to what she called “the sweet spot” of timing. “We’re far enough away from that era to feel nostalgia towards it, but at the same time, not too far away that we can’t remember it,” she told Observer.

Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair and Sarah Michelle Gellar at the Los Angeles show in 2015. Araya Diaz/Getty Images

Sexual Awakenings and ’90s Nostalgia Fuel the ‘Cruel Intentions’ Musical