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


Yesterday, No Doubt announced the title of their hotly anticipated sixth album: Push and Shove. Hitting stores on September 25th, the album will be the legendary rock band’s first in over 11 years.

The announcement of the new record’s title came shortly following the news that No Doubt will perform at this year’s Teen Choice Awards (airing July 22 at 8 PM EST on Fox). And this week, they’re filming a video for their new single, “Settle Down“.

“We are incredibly excited to share the new music with you. Ear candy coming your way!” stated the band about Push and Shove. “Thank you all so much for your support over the last 25 years. We’re really proud of our new album and we hope you love it as much as we do.”

To celebrate No Doubt’s comeback, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe to be the ten essential tracks from their discography thus far. Check it out and share your favorite No Doubt songs in the comments section below!

from Tragic Kingdom

You don’t want to piss off No Doubt’s lead singer, Gwen Stefani.

“Happy Now” finds the singer with a vendetta against a lover who scorned her. An obvious result of betrayal, the song serves as a brutally honest reminder that there will be always be consequences if you fuck up.

“No more leaning on your shoulder. I won’t be there, no more bother. If you feel you just might want me, that’s too bad, I’m not the easy,” Stefani sings with a venomous sting. “You’re by yourself, all by yourself. You have no one else, you’re by yourself.”

Featuring a musical breakdown that should make every member of Paramore start job hunting, “Happy Now” is a true rock tour de force.

from Everything In Time: B-Sides, Rarities & Remixes

“New Friend” acts as a reverse timeline of No Doubt’s musical evolution. Starting out with a dominant dancehall beat, the song opens like a quintessential track off the band’s Rock Steady era. Yet as it progresses, the track gets increasingly grungier until it reaches its bridge and turns into a full out up-tempo punk banger. It’s a song that can be enjoyed by all No Doubt fans as it appeals to both ends of the spectrum of their sound, making it a unique standout in the band’s catalog.

from Rock Steady

I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t disappointed in No Doubt’s most recent studio album, 2001’s Rock Steady. I’m all about exploring new territory and being experimental, but I’m surprised this incorporation of reggae into the band’s signature sound lived past the first time Stefani and Co. heard the painfully awkward “Start The Fire” or horrendous chorus of “Detective.” Fusing that many flavors together is sort of like adding a third ingredient to peanut butter and jelly. It sounds like it could be interesting but that doesn’t mean you should keep trying to do it when what you have already works so well.

Released as the album’s second single, “Hella Good” was the only track from the record playing on the radio that seemed like it could be a No Doubt song instead of one by a band going through an identity crisis.

Part funk, part electronic and part rock, “Hella Good” was the result of a collaboration between the band and hip hop production duo The Neptunes. “A bumping contemporary beat pushes along 80′s style keyboards making it nearly impossible to keep from moving your body,” wrote of the track. And while one would rarely classify No Doubt as club fodder, “Hella Good” is a deliciously irresistable song that’ll keep you sweating on the dancefloor until the sun comes up.

from Return Of Saturn

Only the second song that Stefani wrote all by herself, “Simple Kind of Life” is a gorgeous and somber ballad that juxtaposes Stefani’s desire to settle down and have a family with her commitment to music.

“At once grand, fragile and very, very sad,” wrote Rolling Stone in their review of the song. “It’s clear this woman whom many desire but few regard as a serious artist has penned a song that can sit on the same shelf with the likes of Elliott Smith and Aimee Mann.”

Accompanied by a gorgeously shot Alice In Wonderland-esque music video, “Simple Kind of Life” was the most commercially successful track from Return of Saturn. A fascinating character study of one of rock’s most revered females, this autobiographical song is one whose absence would make any No Doubt collection incomplete.

from Tragic Kingdom

No Doubt’s distinguishing blend of ska and pop has always pushed the boundaries of mainstream music. And at the true forefront of this movement was Spiderwebs – the second single to be released off Tragic Kingdom.

Telling the story of a man who won’t stop calling Stefani, the song acts as somewhat of a rock prequel to Destiny’s Child’s “Bug-A-Boo.” An upbeat track with an orchestra of brass instruments, “Spiderwebs” is an impossibly fun kiss-off to people who just can’t seem to take a hint.

from Return Of Saturn

Sometimes musicians use really creepy metaphors to evoke certain emotions. When Garbage, for instance, sang “I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart and tear it apart” on their smash, “#1 Crush, y”ou can’t help but wonder if such drastic measures are really necessary.

In “Bathwater,” Stefani sings about literally washing in her lover’s “old bathwater.” She also outs the song’s muse as also being somewhat of a man whore – so I’d advise being a little skeptical about the secondhand filth coming off him, girl.

Literal interpretations of gross metaphors aside, “Bathwater” has a sweet message behind it. Infused with some borderline campy cabaret zest, the song is not only about accepting your lover’s faults, but immersing yourself in them as a symbol of loving every fiber of their character. It’s a song with real meaning and a strange format that only No Doubt could execute, proving their artistic versatility while simultaneously expanding on what’s expected from their music.

from Tragic Kingdom

“Don’t Speak” is to No Doubt what Catcher In The Rye is to J.D. Salinger. Sure, his other works are all literary classics within their own rights, but no outlet would identify him in a headline by saying, “Franny And Zooey Author Moves to Human-Free Location.” He’ll always be remembered first and foremost for being the guy who wrote Catcher In The Rye.

For No Doubt, that same title association and claim to fame lies in “Don’t Speak.” A soaring rock ballad, the track finds Stefani singing about coming to terms with the end of a relationship. Or rather, her unwillingness to accept the truth about the doomed fate of said relationship.

“Don’t tell me ‘cuz it hurts,” Stefani pleads in the song’s chorus, almost as though not uttering the words out loud will make them not true. She’d rather suffer silently than have her fears and insecurities vocalized. She knows she’s about to experience searing pain, so she begs that her lover at least the cushion the blow.

A sad and incredibly vulnerable track, “Don’t Speak” is a ‘90s pop culture staple. Not only was it the song that catapulted No Doubt to international fame, but it was also a raw glimpse into Stefani’s psyche that grounded her as a spokesperson for the brokenhearted – and inspiration to this day for drunk karaoke singers.

from Tragic Kingdom

I’m usually the first person to get annoyed and disagree when someone makes an essentialist claim about being a homosexual man. Being gay myself, I usually find these generalizations to not only be inaccurate but also often times insulting (no bitch, I don’t want to go shopping with you).

That being said, I have yet to be introduced to a gay dude who has not at some point in his life cranked up his speakers and danced around in his bedroom to “Just A Girl.” Like, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to strip down to my underwear and emulate Cameron Diaz in the beginning of the first Charlie’s Angels movie and shake my booty all over my house whenever this song comes on. It’s just that feel-good of a track (and while we’re on the topic, let’s all just take a moment to be grateful that Instagram didn’t exist in 1995).

The lead single off Tragic Kingdom, “Just A Girl” was No Doubt’s first dip into the pool of mainstream. Although initially only peaking at #23, the song’s re-release following the massive success of “Don’t Speak” saw the song rise to #3, solidifying the band as more than just a one hit wonder. It also served as a middle finger from Stefani to the skeptics who doubted a female-fronted pop/punk band could achieve the same chart glory as one led by a male vocalist.

Between the biting irony of the song’s lyrics and a chorus that instantly imprinted onto your daily humming routine, “Just A Girl” was not only a confirmation of No Doubt’s staying power, but also of their impending status as contemporary rock legends.

from The Beacon Street Collection

It’s scary to think that there’s a whole generation of kids out there now who just know Justin Timberlake an actor. This same generation most likely identifies Gwen Stefani as that popstar who likes to sample showtunes and can’t accept the fact that she’s not Japanese.

But what this uneducated youth of America is missing out on is just how badass Gwen really is. She’s the type of chick who you can just tell would wipe you out with one hit but who also probably wears lipstick to bed. Come to think of it, I don’t really know why she’s not the star of her own comic book series. But I digress.

“Total Hate ’95” is taken from No Doubt’s criminally underrated ska-fueled independent release, The Beacon Street Collection. Full of trumpets, driving percussion, punk flavor and a honey badger-esque attitude, the song features guest vocals by the late and great Bradley Nowell of Sublime (with whom Gwen also collaborated on the track “Saw Red”).

Listening to Nowell’s swagger mixed with Stefani’s fiery temperament is sort of like getting a blowjob while on E after winning the lottery and spitting in your former evil boss’ coffee. It’s a complete aural orgasm that pleasures all your stimuli and will leave your head spinning. And as you remind yourself to exhale, you’ll immediately wonder if it were too good to be true. Luckily for you, 99 cents and an iTunes account will let you have that experience over and over again.

from Tragic Kingdom

By this point, you’ve probably realized that literally half of this list of ten essential tracks comes from the same album, Tragic Kingdom. And while some might argue that I’m not giving enough love to No Doubt’s other records, it’s important to note that it has actually been scientifically proven that Tragic Kingdom is one of the greatest albums of all time.

Aside from Tragic Kingdom being the album behind No Doubt’s most memorable hits, its title track is what really solidifies the record as the band’s Mona Lisa. Simply put, “Tragic Kingdom” is a showcase of everything great about the group. From Gwen Stefani’s sultry vocals punctuated by staccato outbursts of rocker-chick angst to the gritty “Hotel California” like electric guitar solo, the song also serves as a master class in ‘90s alternative rock.

Closing off the album, “Tragic Kingdom” is as unpredictable as it is catchy. And I’m not just talking about the multiple changes in key and tempo. I mean, if you can honestly tell me that you foresaw the song’s last few seconds to be a brass solo rendition of the Star Wars theme, then I’m going to your father’s house to ask for your hand in marriage because we are investing in some serious stocks, darling.

Nearly two decades after its release, “Tragic Kingdom” remains the crown jewel in No Doubt’s catalog. It’s an undeniably brilliant piece of music that shows off the individual skill sets of every member of the band. Thus, it’s no surprise that they named their strongest body of work after it.

So my dear reader, your homework assignment to complete before the next installment of this 10 Essential Tracks column is to pour yourself a glass of wine, roll a blunt, download some porn, let some aggression out at the gym or whatever it is that you do to unwind, and listen to “Tragic Kingdom” at full volume through your headphones. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Originally published on Hard Candy Music

Tours Of Summer ’09

Flip flops, Ray Bans, driving with the windows down past kids’ lemonade stands, the fragrant and familiar smell of sun tan lotion lathering your body, and deciding to go for a leisurely stroll on 14th street instead of taking the L train across town—these trademarks of summer are slowly dawning upon us. People have already started to embrace the idea of coming out of hibernation and are bathing themselves in the outdoors. Starbucks is making a regular slew of iced lattes and suburban high school boys are rushing to their local American Eagle Outfitters to get the newest and trendiest improvement upon the simple plaid short design. It’s official, the warmest and most picnic friendly season of the year is nearly here. And for the music industry, it’s the allotted annual time slot that’s a guaranteed money maker—all in the form of summer concerts.

The summer has historically been the season with the most jam packed tour itinerary. Kids are out of school, families are going on vacation, people are taking days off work–it’s the perfect time to get fans out to shows to see their favorite artists and introduce them to new ones.

Summer tours have often served as venues for getting fans reconnected with artists who may not have been around for some time, as well as a platform for familiar musicians to test out new songs. For instance, Kelly Clarkson’s “Addicted” summer tour in 2006 was designed to both finish promoting the success of her “Breakaway” album, while interspersing new songs she was recording for her upcoming “My December” release. Fan reactions to these new songs played a significant role in deciding what tracks made the final cut of the record, while they still had a good time and jumping up and down to “Since U Been Gone.”

This summer, Clarkson is touring in support of her most recent release, the #1 album “All I Ever Wanted,” promising a set comprised of past hits, new pop masterpieces, and a couple of covers of music that has had deep personal influences on her. Playing these songs to stadiums full of screaming fans, her summer tour is surely to be both a reminder of who the original and most successful American Idol is, as well as a reclaiming of her “queen of pop/rock” crown after a hiatus from the charts for a couple of years.

Also re-entering the scene after being off the map for quite some time is rock band No Doubt. After a departure from the group to pursue a successful solo career, lead singer Gwen Stefani rejoins her original crew to build up anticipation for their upcoming record, to be released at the end of the year. The show is designed to reacquaint fans with the band by playing essentially a “greatest hits” set, as well as some personal favorites from their twenty-four year career as a group. To draw in a younger generation of fans, opening up for No Doubt will be the female fronted power pop/rock group Paramore, a band that numerously cites Stefani and co. as one of their greatest influences. The wide list of tour dates also includes opening acts such as Katy Perry, the pop star quickly making herself an international household names after hits such as “I Kissed A Girl,” “Hot ‘N Cold,” and the just released “Waking Up In Vegas.” By bringing in radio’s current dominating guitar-riffing divas, No Doubt is not only appealing to their old fans, but introducing themselves to legions of new ones, and are quickly on track for a comeback of epic proportions. On top of that, to promote the tour to the extreme, the band is offering their entire music catalog for free in Mp3 format with the purchase of every individual ticket—so you really have no excuse not to sing along.

Similarly, taking a page from the comeback self-help book, rockers Blink 182 have recently made an announcement that they too have reunited and will be embarking on a nationwide trek across various arenas this summer. Again, the purpose is to bring back all the old fans and gear them up for their impending new record. After a breakup that was set to be permanent, Blink fans rejoiced at the news that the crude, humorous, and lyrically genius band would have their names printed on ticket stubs for a summer 2009 headlining concert.

The beauty of musicians going out on tour is that there is always a show for everyone, no matter the preferred genre. If, for instance, you want to go see some classic oldies on stage this summer, legendary artists such as Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, Etta James, and a co-headliner between Elton John and Billy Joel are all must see shows. If you want to experience the typical “college rock” scene, concerts by Dave Matthews Band as well as a stadium show featuring both Jack’s Mannequin and The Fray should be on your list. If you’re looking for a fun, guilty pleasure pop show, you should consider catching Australian twins The Veronicas on their “Revenge Is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were)” tour, Lady GaGa’s critically acclaimed first ever headlining tour, or Disney channel superstar Demi Lovato, who is being supported by former American Idol contestant and current hit maker David Archuleta.

Although going into large arenas with thousands of screaming fans usually promises to be a good time, my favorite tours have always been the ones played in smaller venues for a more intimate connection with the artists. Some musicians I am personally excited to see this summer are Santigold and Metric, both playing shows at Terminal 5 in New York City. Others include disco influenced rockers, Of Montreal, who are playing at decent sized venues such as the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Trocadero in Philadelphia, and The Hollywood Bowl in California. The Format’s Nate Ruess’ new band Fun will be attempting to make a name for themselves and garner hype for the release of their debut album by opening up for Manchester Orchestra. Other highlights I am looking forward to are the headlining tours of The Kills, Incubus, Adele, Loney Dear, The Shins, Regina Spektor, Mates of State, and the “River To River Festival” concert taking place at Battery Park on July 4th, being headlined by Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley).

Whether it’s a trip to the beach that ends with a fierce tan or sipping daiquiris and coladas by the pool, the summer is revered as the “vacation season.” It’s the time when you’re supposed to let go of your daily routine and indulge yourself in trips to amusement parks and spend hours strolling through outdoor sidewalk sales. There’s no better way to unwind, however, than watching great music being played live on stage. If the show is done right, a concert has the ability to transcend your body to an out of this world experience where only you and the music matter. This summer, there are plenty of opportunities nationwide to see some fantastic and talented artists play on stage. Although we are in a recession and concert tickets may not be the first priority many have when it comes to spending money, however, the experience has the potential to be absolutely priceless.