LONDON — The French epistolary novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos has been the face of many adaptations in popular culture: an opera by Italian composer Luca Francesconi; a ballet choreographed by Liam Scarlett; Stephen Frears’ 1988 film starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman — but it’s Roger Kumble’s ‘90s take on the novel in “Cruel Intentions,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Selma Blair and Reese Witherspoon, that’s frequently referenced amongst Gen Z and Millennials.
Kumble’s cult classic is now the tune of a new musical, “Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical” staged at London’s Off West End theater The Other Palace with a fresh, young cast that combines the film’s quotable lines and Manhattan style with the music of Britney Spears, Natalie Imbruglia, Christina Aguilera and TLC.
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“A lot of the outfits that they’ve got on are very much what they had in the movie and then some [outfits] are closer to the feel of the ‘90s,” said Hugo Aguirre, the show’s costume superviser, in an interview.
The sourcing proved easy for the costume department, as London shops are stocked with pieces paying homage to the flirty styles of the ‘90s.
The character of Kathryn Merteuil in the film (played by Michelle Gellar), based on Laclos’ Marquise de Merteuil, wears a black Dolce & Gabbana bustier corset that the film’s costume designer Denise Wingate decorated with a silky orange fabric.
Aguirre and the team recreated the piece for Merteuil (played by Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) in the stage production, along with the character’s famous cocaine-carrying silver crucifix that she often touches ironically in front of her elders, muttering, “Whenever I feel the temptation of peer pressure, I turn to God and he helps me through the problem.”
“It’s a mix of nostalgia and today’s trendy fashion. There’s a lot of slip dresses, but they’re also dancing, so we’ve had to come up with things that allow them to move and dance. We have a revolve on stage, which doesn’t allow for thin stiletto shoes” said Aguirre, pointing out that all the characters wear little muled strappy heels.
“Obviously what they were wearing was Prada and Chanel, which we tried our best to make that same look with a much, much smaller budget. They’re elite New York rich kids and there has to be a feel of a bit of richness so there’s pops of Ralph Lauren,” he added.
Daniel Bravo, who plays Sebastian Valmont, the bad boy turned prince charming of the upper east side, takes direct cues from the ‘90s film with a gray suit; a black silky shirt and his signature roll neck accessorized with dark spectacles.
It’s the costuming of mother-daughter duo Mrs. Bunny Caldwell and Cecile Caldwell that brings the musical to life. The pair, as in the film, couldn’t be more different sartorially.
“In the first scene with Cecile [in the film], she’s wearing this koala t-shirt that her dad got her from Australia. It doesn’t exist, so I couldn’t find it, but I hand drew the actual koala and had the T-shirt made,” Aguirre said.
Meanwhile, the character of Mrs. Caldwell wears a pink tweed suit with black trimmings that resembles Marge Simpson’s $90 Chanel suit that she bought on sale and wore everywhere. Actor Jess Buckby, too, wears the pink suit in every scene in the musical.
Throughout the production, Aguirre and the costume team added cliche collegiate American tones via the football players and neat boarding school uniforms.
“Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical” is playing at The Other Palace until April 14.
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