Dallas — Houston-born actress Brooke Singer is hitting her home state this month with the first national tour of Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical Experience, playing May 22-26 at the Wyly Theater, presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
The production is based on the cult movie of the same name, a pre-Gossip Girl teenage take on the novel (and play and film) Les Liaisons Dangereuses starring Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Philippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Selma Blair.
The movie was a scandalous hit when it premiered for a number of reasons—most of all thanks to a shocking (for 1999) on-screen smooch between Gellar and Blair that won an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss. Coupled with an iconic soundtrack that features hits from popular, radio-friendly artists like Blur, No Doubt, Melissa Etheridge, TLC, and the Verve, Cruel Intentions fairly bleeds late-‘90s nostalgia 20 years later.
In that spirit, TheaterJones tossed on a slipdress, some platforms, and a little body glitter to sit down with Brooke and talk about channeling the spirit of the movie, what it’s like to play Cecile Caldwell (originally played by Blair), and what people are still saying about that kiss.
TheaterJones: Tell me a little bit about the musical of Cruel Intentions. How is it different than the movie?
Brooke Singer: It is the movie to a tee. We are not doing a parody at all—we are staying true to the tone, but just adding some pizazz to it and bringing it to life in a different way. We still sit in the realm of the dark comedy of it, which is what makes the movie so great.
We have all of the epic scenes that you remember and want to see, and then when you least expect it—but at the greatest moments—we bust out into the most perfect ’90s song. It just works so well with the music, it’s kind of shocking in the best way.
The majority of the songs from the original soundtrack are in the production, which is amazing because that was easily one of the best soundtracks of that decade. We can’t even talk about the music enough. What I get to sing, it’s really a dream come true.
Cecile is really one of the key roles in the whole story of Cruel Intentions. Tell me what it’s like to play her.
It’s a wild time...I think I may have to retire after playing this role because I may have peaked in my career. [laughs]
I think the most fun thing about the character is that she’s truly, genuinely naive, and it’s not put on at all. She is who she is; she’s trying to figure out her sexuality and where she fits in to this society, this Upper East Side life. She’s a wildcard to begin with, and then you add in her interactions with the other characters who are such a contrast to her.
She’s an outlier—everyone else in this world is so jaded by the age of 16, but my character is dropped in from the latest Disney movie, right down to the butterfly clips in my hair. The directors have really given me license to just kind of play in that youthful nature she has—it’s been a lot of fun to regress to my 15-year-old self and just go there!
That awakening is something women experience no matter where they’re from, what kind of a family they’re a part of, or where they sit in society—that makes Cecile kind of the most relatable character.
Yes, definitely! That has been really exciting to hear people say post-show, because I think we should all be able to embrace that Cecile side of ourselves. We don’t have to be Marcia Brady or Mary Sunshine to be considered a lady.
It’s really kind of cool, because I don’t think I expected her to have as much of an arc as she does have. But from scene one where her mother is telling her to close her legs and stop talking about boys, all the way through the end, she goes through a full arc. That is really empowering for me to get to do every night. I feel like I really get to go through it with her and that’s something I didn’t expect at the beginning of the process, which is really exciting.
Cecile’s girl-on-girl kissing scene with the character Kathryn is infamous. But when the movie came out, seeing a lesbian kiss onscreen was still very taboo in mainstream entertainment. People were shocked by it, and it was even censored in some places. What have people’s reactions been like to that scene in 2019?
It’s honestly been a mix. We’ve had a lot of applause during it, and it’s exciting that people are like, “Yes, this is good, so glad you guys are doing this.” But I’ve also had people say to me after the show, “I can’t believe you guys did that.”
Well, first of all, we’re acting. And second of all, this is the world we’re in. It was taboo then, and people are still uncomfortable about it now. That makes it even more important that we do it and we don’t censor it. The scene has never been uncomfortable, and it’s almost like the more we do it and the more people are uncomfortable with it, the more we want to overdo it to get the reaction.
And there is this difference in the innocence of Cecile and the knowledge of Kathryn, where Kathryn is setting up this moment in the middle of Central Park in her giant hat, almost glorying in what she thinks she’s doing, but then Cecile is just experiencing it all.
To make that moment even better, after the kiss we bust out into this epic song that is so perfect — ten out of ten times we hear an audible reaction from the audience for this song, which I still hear on the radio constantly today. It has as much weight now as it did then. I think the way that our directors have built that scene, it just all ties together.
What is the biggest challenge you find in playing Cecile? She obviously has a lot more nuance than people may realize. As an actor that is a real extra challenge to go on stage and dig into it to bring that character to life instead of playing it—no pun intended—straight.
I think the biggest challenge is staying true to Selma Blair’s Cecile, because I want to pay homage to that but also putting my own twist on it.
I want to make her as genuine as possible, since I don’t want her to be this kooky caricature of herself, I want her to be relatable. We’ve all been young and curious. I actually have a lot in common with her wild and adventurous nature.
My cast likes to call me “al denta pasta” because I just kind of throw my body around like a loose noodle. And that’s part of it, starting out from a really honest place so that when I get to my crazy songs and scenes, people believe it. I don’t want anyone thinking, “Oh, she’s just so over the top.” That’s the greatest challenge an actor could have.
You have the perfect mix of experience in the roles you’ve played before to really nail this character. You’ve been in Disney productions, but you’ve also played Wendla in Spring Awakening.
I feel like I have been building up to this moment. Cecile is the perfect combination of that Disney naïveté and that thread of sexual exploration in Wendla, but then there’s the comedy.
And I am a true comedian. I’d say that is my strongest point, but I have yet to be able to showcase it properly. So this is my tour de force and I’m not holding back. That has been so much fun. There is nothing better than hearing an audience laugh and being with them in that moment.
A lot of people will likely be interested in the show out of a sense of nostalgia, or because they remember the movie. But it can be hard to know what to expect from a movie-turned-musical. What do you really hope people take away from this show?
I hope they have a great time, first of all, and walk away singing our songs. But we’ve also made a very empowering show about embracing your sexuality, embracing who you are as a person, and celebrating that. I think that’s a really important message for people to hear.