The market for this new musical is clear enough – it’s an adaptation of a popular film from the 90s with pop songs from the same era that should secure an audience. You might like the movie and the hits. But Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble’s efforts at bringing both to the stage are messy and unsatisfying. The combination of story and song isn’t inspired and the whole show comes across dated.
At least the story is OK, after all, it’s based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons. The action is moved to a wealthy school. Emotions and motives are simplified but the book is clear and replacing French aristocrats with wealthy American teenagers is an interesting idea. If it suffers from the characters all being the same age, and focusing on sex rather than power, the change provides insight.
The show is well performed. The leads, now wicked stepsiblings, have strong voices and are convincingly sexy. Daniel Bravo has the required charisma as Sebastian Valmont and sounds great. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, who takes the part of the villainous Kathryn Merteuil, is phenomenal. She has a voice that can make anything sound good (a talent she employs frequently here). Their victims can also sing but their roles are less successful; the parts for Abbie Budden and Rose Galbraith are either saintly or stupid and neither is particularly interesting. At least director Jonathan O’Boyle keeps everything clear and swift.
Problems arise with the songs. It’s not just a matter of taste or the issue of forcing songs into a musical that were never intended to be there (this can be done well, look at &Juliet). The trouble is that the mix seems random. Styles often jar…but pointlessly so. With a couple of exceptions, songs are thrown into the action with little thought. Even if you enjoy the performances, it’s hard to get past questioning – why this number? Compounding the problem, the orchestration is, mostly, unimaginative.
Yet it isn’t the music that really dates the show. Dangerous Liaisons should shock. Credit where it is due, these characters really are awful (and foul mouthed). The action isn’t coy. But any challenge or drama is dampened by injecting humour. Mixing Choderlos de Laclos with pop songs is, undoubtedly, camp. But camp should be clever. There’s a complicity with laughing along here that is thoughtless. Maybe it goes back to changing everyone’s age? Again, it isn’t a question of the talent on stage: Josh Barnett and Jess Buckby both have nice cameos that show their comic skills. It just seems odd to laugh at teens exploiting one another. In case that is a judgement based on taste, if you do want a comedy, the jokes still need to be better. Random profanities and unimaginative innuendo shouldn’t cut it nowadays. Ultimately, we know what’s going on here isn’t funny – as the end proves – so the show concludes on a downer and the jokes feel pointlessly tasteless.
Until 14 April 2024
Photo by Pamela Raith