Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical Experience


Fresh off playing the titular character’s understudy in Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, the Michigan-raised actress’ newest project is taking her deep into a corrupt world of secrets, seduction, and deception. As the dangerous and manipulative Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions: The Musical, Zakrin is transforming from an ingénue to a villain.

After two sold out runs in Los Angeles, Cruel Intentions: The Musical has arrived in New York City for a limited engagement (through February 19, 2018). Opening December 11th, the show is based on the 1999 cult-classic motion picture of the same name. Created by Jordan RossLindsey Rosin and the film’s director, Roger Kumble, this stage adaptation features a compilation of throwback hits, including some of the best-known tracks from the movie’s legendary soundtrack – including Counting Crows’ “Colorblind” and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”

I spoke with Zakrin about getting to be a “bad guy” for the first time, her connection to the show’s source material, performing some of the biggest songs of the ‘90s, her musical theater dream roles, and more.

Cruel Intentions: The Musical

ALEX NAGORSKI: Growing up, were you a fan of the movie? What’s your first or favorite memory about the effect it had on you?

LAUREN ZAKRIN: I was absolutely a fan! And I hate to admit it, but I was on Team Kathryn. I don’t know what it says about me as a person, but the darkness and the power of her character fascinated me. I think I might have been a little young for it, so the movie felt like this dirty little secret that I hadn’t quite figured out yet.

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalAside from the movie itself, where/who else are you drawing inspiration from to shape your interpretation of Kathryn?

I think it would be easy to point the finger and say that I am drawing inspiration from girls who were unkind to me in high school, and of course I do. But it’s much more juicy to find the Kathryn that already lives within me. Even if she has never come out before, I think we all have a little Kathryn Merteuil inside, whether or not we would like to admit it.

Have you had an opportunity to meet and/or speak with Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played Kathryn in the film) about this role?

Unfortunately, I have not met Queen SMG. However, I have heard that she attended the show while it was running in LA! Everyone says she was lovely, and very supportive. If I do get to meet her, my inner Buffy-obsessed pre-teen self will probably freak out.

Kathryn and her stepbrother Sebastian have – to put it mildly – quite an unconventional relationship. How have you and your co-star Constantine Rousouli found the balance between passion and revenge that these two characters force one another to endure?

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalConstantine and I were fortunate enough to walk into the process already knowing each other. Nine years ago, we toured together in Legally Blonde, my very first job! It has been helpful to have a bit of history and trust in the bag when diving into a relationship as complicated as Kathryn and Sebastian’s. Everything else between our characters just seems to be falling into place. There is a natural flirtation and playfulness between us. We know how to poke fun at each other. And we also know when the other one needs support. Constantine has also already been on the Cruel Intentions ride for a couple of years now, and it’s been wonderful to have him holding my hand and guiding me through the world! It doesn’t hurt that he is devilishly handsome, either.

As an actor, how does getting to play a villain differ from some of your previous characters in musicals such as Wicked and Grease?

Kathryn is my very first villain, my first “mean girl.”  In the beginning, I was intimidated by her darkness, but now … I LOVE IT. I find it very therapeutic to expose all of the facets of her to an audience.

The film was based on the novel Dangerous Liaisons (which was also turned into a movie). What do you think it is about this story that has allowed it to live on in so many incarnations and mediums?

Everyone is capable of darkness. I think telling a story that exposes the ugliness of human nature, the selfishness, the jealously, the desire and the cruelty not only forces us to address the unkindnesses in the world around us and why they are happening, but to also acknowledge our own thoughts and actions. It forces us to address our own capabilities towards good and evil. Everyone has dirty little secrets and fantasies, and perhaps everyone has done a thing or two that they aren’t proud of … but pretending otherwise isn’t helpful, nor is slapping a quick label on it. We must address it and examine it, and find the why. I think these stories allow us to take the look that we might be too afraid to do on our own.

The musical is filled with some of the biggest hits of the 90’s – including songs by artists like Britney Spears, No Doubt, R.E.M., Christina Aguilera and Jewel. As a performer, how do you go about re-contextualizing these iconic songs within a musical theater narrative?

As a performer, you must strive to make each song as story driven as possible. Of course, when these songs drop in the show, the audience loves it. There is a lot of laughter and hooting and singing along, which is exactly how it should be. But as the storytellers, we have to try to resist falling into the trap of the joke. The song’s nostalgia is the joke, but the performance of it is not. That’s the only way to maintain the integrity of the story itself, while weaving in these fun 90’s hits.

The show takes place at renowned downtown Manhattan venue (le) Poisson Rouge, complete with bar and table service. How does performing in this type of nightlife environment contrast from being on stage in a more traditional theater?

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalAfter doing The Great Comet of 1812 in a tent in the Meatpacking District, I have found that I really thrive in a more interactive environment. I think we have this wonderful opportunity to push the boundaries and change the shape of how theater can be done or seen. Cruel Intentions is meant to be a dirty, wicked little party, so it fits perfectly into Le Poisson Rouge’s rock-and-roll world. It’s the perfect place to have a drink in your hand and be singing along to Ace of Base.

You made your Broadway debut in 2014 as Sherrie in Rock of Ages, a musical about the 1980s. Now that Cruel Intentions has taken you to the following decade, do you have more fun reliving and exploring the ‘80s or ‘90s through your work? 

was a child of the 90s, so revisiting them still brings me a little bit of shame when I have to look at some of my fashion and music choices. Doing something like Rock of Ages really let me feel like I was diving into another world that I got to learn about and explore.

You’ve been very vocal on social media about the absurdity, cruelty and chaos that defines our current presidential administration. Is it your hope that stepping into the nostalgia-tinged 90’s world of this immersive musical experience will provide audience members with a temporary pass for true escapism? Or are there larger lessons/takeaways that you’re hoping the audience leaves with?

I think we absolutely have an opportunity to comment on the current climate, and to point at things that may or may not have changed socially and politically. There are moments for escapism, but it is always a shame when the opportunity is missed to create change.  As I mentioned, I hope this story, at the very least, allows people to honestly observe, address, and examine the unkindnesses and cruelties within them and in the world around them.

I was fortunate enough to catch your phenomenal turn as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 this past summer opposite Oak Onaodowan and Ingrid Michaelson. What were your thoughts/feelings on the show’s abrupt and controversial closing?

Thank you for your kind words! All I can say is that Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has been the most rewarding and beautiful experience of my professional life, and I miss it every day!

In addition to Cruel Intentions, you’ve been a part of several other movie-to-musical adaptations – including Legally BlondeCatch Me If You Can, and Flashdance. In your experience, what are both the most rewarding and challenging aspects of bringing such beloved films to life on stage?

It is always helpful to begin a project that already has a built-in fan base. However, there can be some challenges in navigating how to maintain the things that people love about the movie while keeping the stage adaptation fresh and relevant. While we want to stay true to all of the iconic moments people are dying to see, it is important to know when change is necessary to best tell the story today. It is also important to avoid the trap of replicating or imitating a performance. The characters need to remain truthful in our bodies, and our interpretations of them grounded in honesty.

What is your musical theater dream role?

Natasha in The Great Comet of 1812. Christine in Phantom of the Opera. Clara in The Light in the Piazza. Marilyn Monroe. Or better yet, something new and all my own!

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for Cruel Intentions: The Musical, playing now through February 19, 2018 at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York City.

Originally published on PopBytes


When Eliza Dushku’s character Faith was introduced to the smash television series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, she started off with a massive bang. She was mysterious and clearly a force to be reckoned with. Her attitude was fearless and her blow was lethal. This was not the girl whose bad side you wanted to get on. Because when Faith was scorned, her driving hunger for revenge came from a place so dark that she would make it her mission to completely desolate those who had wronged her.

The same can be said for Fiona Apple. From the moment she released her 1996 masterpiece debut album, Tidal, Fiona asserted herself as a powerhouse presence in the music industry. Here was a young woman with a shattered heart and an unapologetic appetite for vengeance. And not in an Emily Thorne or Taylor Swift #whitegirlproblems kind of way. Fiona’s lyrics were an outlet of raw self-expression – one in which she could both attack and reflect. They were equal parts vulnerable, hurt and angry. Listening to that album, one can almost see the bloodstained knuckles pounding away at the piano as her songs knocked out the men responsible for her internal bruises (check out my list of top ten essential Fiona Apple classics here).

But like Faith, Fiona’s debut did not launch her into a series regular. Instead, she became a reoccurring character who would pop up less and less frequently. Yet each time she did, her swings were just as brutal and were met with feverish applause from critics as well as a rabid nearly cult-like fan following. And even though she would vanish from the spotlight for what seemed each time like an eternity, Fiona would always come back in the last inning with a stake in her hand and an eagerness to punish evil.

After being in musical hibernation since the release of her controversial 2005 album, Extraordinary Machine, Fiona is officially back with her first new material in seven years. Having premiered last week, “Every Single Night” is the first track to be released off of Fiona’s upcoming fourth album, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. And while the record’s 23-word title might feel overly high-strung and like you need to come up for air, its lead single is quite the opposite: simple, mellow and to the point.

On “Every Single Night,” Fiona’s claws are as sharp as ever. But instead of using them as weapons against another opponent, she redirects them inwardly – as it’s the 35-year-old chanteuse herself who is the catalyst of pain in this scenario.

“The rib is the shell and the heart is the yolk and I just made a meal for us both to choke on,” Fiona laments on the track. “Every single night’s a fight with my brain. I just want to feel everything.”

It’s not just the lyrics that are exposed to showcase the troubled core of Fiona’s situation. Musically, “Every Single Night” is framed by a skeleton of acoustic instrumentation that does more to guide the melody rather than to carry the song as a whole.

The spotlight on Fiona’s bare vocals evokes a feeling of struggle, almost as though she’s about to topple over. It’s a feeling that masterfully emphasizes the importance of music as a narrative tool, as this minimalist approach to orchestration perfectly compliments the fragile story woven by the song’s somber lyrics.

“Every Single Night” is not an evolution in sound for Fiona, but it’s certainly an evolution of her character. A song at this level of self-awareness is clearly an indicator of a far more mature songstress. It’s the same type of lesson in growing up as the one Faith learned when Angel helped her rejoin the good side after falling into a dark spell. It’s a lesson that warns against losing sight of yourself and teaches that honest introspection is the only way to begin to improve your faults. Even if that does mean needing to take yourself down a few notches.

Welcome back, Fiona. We’ve missed you.

Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do hits stores on June 19 via Epic Records.

Originally published on Hard Candy Music


Fans of Garbage haven’t been this excited since 2005.

It was then that the rock band released their last album, Bleed Like Me. This year, however, the freshly reunited quartet is back to inject some grunge into the mainstream.

On May 15, Garbage will be releasing their fifth studio album, Not Your Kind of People (via their own record label, Stunvolume). For those unfamiliar, Garbage are the musicians behind such monster ‘90s hits as “Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl, and” the theme song to the James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough.

At 4 PM (EST) this afternoon, the iconic rockers will be participating in a live Ustream chat to talk about the upcoming record with fans and debut their music video for the album’s lead single, “Blood For Poppies.”


Before you go see them on their nearly sold out spring tour, check out the list I’ve compiled of the band’s top ten essential tracks. Whether you’re a lapsed Garbage fan or a new one looking for a jumping on point, this list has got a little something for everyone. And be sure to share your favorite Garbage tracks in the comments section below!

10. MILK 

from Garbage

One of most the most mellow and subdued single choices in Garbage’s playbook, “Milk” is a haunting song about lost love. Laced with a slow dripping trance downbeat, it also paved the path for the band’s future expanded experimentation with electronica.

“It’s a dichotomy, a paradox,” Garbage front woman Shirley Manson told British music newspaper Melody Maker in 1996 about the song. “The thing I really like about ‘Milk’ is the fact that it’s been dismissed by people as the ballad at the end of the album. To me, ‘Milk’ is the darkest, most hopeless of the songs. People say ‘Oh, it’s lovey-dovey, so therefore it’s a love song’. But it’s a very bleak song, it’s about loss and the fear of loss; about things you can’t have and things you will forever wait for.”


from Garbage

Nominated for “Breakthrough Video” at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, the music video for Garbage’s “Queer” stirred quite the controversy upon its initial release. Shot on a hand-held camera, the (mostly) black-and-white music video depicts the first-person perspective of the cameraman as Manson holds him hostage, takes off his clothes and shaves his head.

For a song about liberating your inner-freak, the accompanying music video for Queer” couldn’t be more brilliant. It perfectly matches the song’s message about embracing one’s “strangeness” as what makes them individuals rather than social misfits. The “be yourself” moral of the track is not one seldom found in music, but its unique execution is one that makes “Queer” a real standout in the band’s career.


from Bleed Like Me

There was a time not too long ago when songs like Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R,” Katy Perry’s “Firework,” P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” dominated the radio all at once. Inspired by the horrifying increase of suicides amongst homosexual adolescents, these songs were written with the hopes of inspiring people to not only remain true to themselves, but to also be at peace and be comfortable with their identities.

Taken from their album of the same name, Garbage’s “Bleed Like Me” has a similar message but with a different approach. Instead of focusing on the “it gets better” dreams of a future, “Bleed Like Me” is about the present pains of waiting for that future to happen.

The verses of “Bleed Like Me” are split into vignettes that tell stories about people suffering from eating disorders, gender confusion, depression and substance abuse as a form of escapism. The message? Even though you might feel disconnected from the world at a low-point in life, your feelings are never isolated. Even though it may seem like nobody understands, people cope with growing into themselves in countless ways, many of which are unfortunately self-destructive.

And while saying “you’re not alone” may not be the saving advice that drags the characters Manson has described out of the funk they’re in, it’s at least a comforting reminder that there is still a sense of hope out there, no matter how unattainable it may temporarily seem.


from Version 2.0

The lead single off of Version 2.0, “Push It” showcases a part of Manson rarely seen in Garbage’s music: the glass-half-full, positive-spin-on-things side.

“I want to see you happy/I want to see you shine,” Manson seductively purrs on the track. “Don’t worry baby/We’ll be alright.”

Describing her lover’s pain as causing pain to her, Manson begs and persuades her lover to forgive her for whatever she’s done. A true love song, “Push It” is a battle cry to save a relationship that might be headed towards its end. And Manson is unafraid to fight until her lover is convinced that what they have is worth saving.

Set against a pulsing wave of electronica-backed percussion, it’s a track that injects a welcome shot of adrenaline to what might otherwise be written off as a somewhat generic plea for a second chance.


from Version 2.0

Nominated for “Best Rock Song” and “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group” at the 2000 Grammy Awards, “Special” remains to be one of Garbage’s most adorned hits to date.

Inspired by a tumultuous breakup, “Special” depicts the crossroads lovers face when they realize they’ve grown in opposite directions and no longer satisfy one another’s expectations. In the song, Manson sings about her disappointment and her decision to embark on a solo journey – one in which she’s not restricted by the failed promise of a symbiotic relationship with her lover.

“Do you have an opinion?/A mind of your own?/I thought you were special/I thought you should know/But I’ve run out of patience/I couldn’t care less,” she croons as she kisses her lover goodbye.

Manson masterfully relays the feelings of exasperation and frustration that come with discovering your lovers’ true colors don’t blend well with your own. Acting like a canvas of sorts, “Special” pinpoints exactly what happens when these colors run parallel to one another – they may seem pretty at first, but they’ll ultimately never meet.


from Version 2.0 & Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Album

Although originally a track on Garbage’s album, Version 2.0, “Temptation Waits” reached its true immortality when it was included on the official 1999 soundtrack to the television show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. One of that record’s biggest hits, the song has since been associated with the cult phenomenon TV program in the same vein that Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” is linked to Dawson’s Creek or Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” is attributed to Grey’s Anatomy.

Gritty, sexy and upbeat, “Temptation Waits” tells the story of undying love and thus expertly compliments Buffy’s tone. And no, I never played the song on loop while writing fan letters to Sarah Michelle Gellar. How dare you even ask?


from Version 2.0

As an adolescent, everyone thinks about how different their lives will be when they “grow up.” For little kids, growing up means things like being able to have ice cream for dinner if you want without getting in trouble. For teenagers, it means things like not having a curfew or paper assignments about historical events you’ll never care about. There’s that ideal notion that after we’ve “grown up,” we’ll have complete control over the reigns of our lives.

Characteristically, Garbage’s take on this concept looks at it through a no-bullshit lens. Almost like a retaliation to the critics who dubbed Garbage as child’s play, “When I Grow Up” sticks up a middle finger to those who enforce social expectations of adulthood.

Manson has never been shy about having a dominant wild side. In this synthpop-fortified grunge banger, she dares her haters to try to silence her from voicing her opinions or to stop her from partying and engaging in what are commonly regarded as defiant acts of sexuality. And while her suggestions of keeping life spicy with golden showers and helicopter rides may not make Manson a parent’s ideal role model for their child, it certainly makes her one of the most bold, unapologetic and interesting women in the industry.

3. #1 CRUSH 

from Romeo + Juliet: Music From The Motion Picture

Like the flawless soundtrack to Cruel Intentions, the tracklisting for the soundtrack for director Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet reads like a Now! That’s What I Call Music installment of greatest hits from the 90s. Featuring songs like The Cardigans’ “Lovefool,” Des’ree’s “Kissing You” and Everclear’s “Local God,” the album undoubtedly acts as a time portal for anyone who paid attention to contemporary music in 1996.

Garbage’s contribution to the soundtrack, “#1 Crush,” was originally released as a b-side to their single, “Vow.” The song was then remixed by producers Nellee Hooper and Marius de Vries for Luhrmann’s film and ended up hitting #1 on Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. And as it’s written from the perspective of a stalker Manson had, it remains arguably the creepiest song Garbage has ever recorded.

“I would die for you/I would kill for you/I will steal for you/I’d do time for you/I would wait for you/I’d make room for you/I’d sail ships for you/To be close to you/To be a part of you/’Cause I believe in you/I believe in you/I would die for you,” Manson growls over the song’s trip-hop beat.

Perhaps the song’s definition of self-sacrifice for forbidden love doesn’t match Shakespeare’s definition, but its alarming display of being blinded by desire fits perfectly into Luhrmann’s twisted interpretation of his source material, and into the airwaves of mainstream radio.


from Version 2.0

Three years after the release of their enormously successful debut, Garbage eleased their sophomore album, Version 2.0, in 1998. Another collaboration with Nirvana producer Butch Vig, Version 2.0 was more than just the eagerly anticipated follow-up to a successful rock band’s first album. It was a statement on how rapidly evolving technology was influencing the music industry – and why that wasn’t such a bad thing.

Blending acoustic live instruments with newly available digital resources, Version 2.0 paid homage to classic rock while simultaneously ushering in a new era of pop/rock. As Billboard put it, the record put “a late ‘90s spin on ‘60s pop varieties.” The result was a multi-platinum album that continued to chart from the time of its release into the new millennium.

Version 2.0’s second single, “I Think I’m Paranoid” perfectly exemplifies this marriage between the “new” and “old” sounds that the album set out to combine. With a stomping percussion background accompanied by an electric guitar and thrashing electronica, the unique structure of the song raised the bar for its peers and crowned Garbage as an innovative band that not only challenges convention, but sounds damn good doing it.


from Garbage

Although never the smash single it deserved to be, “Supervixen” is a landmark track in Garbage’s repertoire. The opening track off of the band’s eponymous debut album, “Supervixen” rolled out the red carpet for Shirley Manson and Co. when they entered the scene in 1995.

It makes sense that “Supervixen” acts as the introductory cut in Garbage’s catalog as it’s a song that perfectly represents the band’s sound. It’s an up-tempo shake-the-glitter-out-of-your-hair alternative rock track built out of a soaring pop hook, sprinkled traces of electronica and a heavy serving of the classic grunge Garbage helped define as the signature of ‘90s music.

Combine that with Manson’s deliciously raspy vocals and cut-throat lyrics like “I can take you out with just the flick of my wrist,” and the repeated commands of “bow down to me,” “Supervixen” is like the college guy you dated in high school: sexy, smart and with a enticing rebellious attitude. And that makes for the ultimate Garbage track.

Originally published on Hard Candy Music


A review of SCREAM 4.
By Alex Nagorski

No movies defined my adolescent years like the original Scream trilogy. Well, except for maybe Cruel Intentions, but that was for completely different reasons (I dare you to name one person from my generation who doesn’t attribute their sexual awakening to the sight of Ryan Phillippe’s bare ass). Growing up, I wanted nothing more than to literally be Sidney Prescott. Why would I want to be the victim of a series of ruthless killers determined on destroying her life and murdering everyone she’s ever loved?

Easy. 1) She was really pretty, 2) She got to hang out with Monica from Friends, 3) She had all those movies made about her life (good morning, royalty checks!), and 4) I’d spent enough hours gorging on cupcakes and watching Buffy marathons to roundhouse kick the shit out of Ghostface if (s)he ever tried anything with me.

My obsession with these movies even translated into a 7th grade school project. For my English class, we were supposed to write a short story about anything we liked. Very specific instructions, I know. So naturally, I wrote out my concept for Scream 4. My teacher made me stay after class one day and explained that I can’t just write a sequel to a movie and call it a short story. She told me that since none of the characters were from my own mind and I was basing what I wrote off of someone else’s work, I was plagiarizing.

Scream-4-281 In my story, Sidney ultimately snapped and became the killer – ending in a massive brawl involving a blowtorch, a mental hospital, and the heroic alliance of Gale Weathers with (surprise twist!) Sarah Michelle Gellar’s (dead) character from Scream 2. It’s brilliant, I know. My teacher made me resubmit a whole new story so instead I wrote about an innocent bunny who wanted to be an author, but couldn’t get anything published due to the harsh censorship in his neighborhood of the forest. True story.

So now that you understand my background and unnatural affiliation with these movies, you have no choice but to believe me when I say that (despire mediocre reviews and a lackluster opening weekend box office revenue) Scream 4 is the best film in the franchise after the first one. Literally throughout the entire movie, everyone at the packed midnight showing I was at was doing their best Brenda from Scary Movie impression and yelling at the screen the whole time. Finally, a Scream film actually followed through with its title again.

Scream 4 included everything a good Scream movie should have. An epic opening that will linger with you for days after you’ve seen the film, obnoxious self-aware commentary, killer humor, a cast of sexy up-and-comers, tons of movie references, and constant head spinning twists.

To be honest, I was very nervous about Scream 4, especially when I heard that writer Kevin Williamson dropped out and additional script re-writes were being done by the dude behind Scream 3. Originally, this made me think that Scream 4 was about as good of an idea as I Still Know Who Killed Me, Valentine Returns or Another House of Wax.

Scream-4_02 Luckily, however, I was very mistaken. The script was fantastic. Not only did it call for some of the most elaborate deaths and fucked up killer motives of the entire franchise, but the entire commentary on horror reboots and remakes was pure genius. The Scream films have never failed with their impeccable parodies of the genre they constantly redefine.

There’s not much that can be said about the film without giving things away. So let me just leave you with this. The movie will undoubtedly:

1. Make you laugh your ass off
2. Make you jump out of your seat
3. Give you the biggest hard-on of your life thanks to Hayden Panettiere
4. Have you write Courteney Cox a letter begging to quit the lip injections already before her Joan Rivers transformation is complete
5. Infiltrate all your thoughts for the following week

Convinced? Check out Scream 4, in theaters now.

Originally published on Crazytown Blog