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Clueless the Musical review at Pershing Square Signature Center, New York – ‘contrived and heavy-handed’

Dove Cameron and the company of Clueless the Musical. Photo: Monique Carboni

Though the familiar characters and central romance remain in Amy Heckerling’s musical adaptation of her hit 1995 film, Clueless, the nostalgia factor is undermined by contrived lyrics, heavy-handed direction, and some very odd design choices. It feels more like a parody rather than a homage. The production has a winking self-awareness that eats away at the original’s warm heart.

The plot mostly mirrors the film (which in turn was inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma). Cher (Dove Cameron) is a popular high school student who is all about matchmaking and makeovers but is clueless about her own feelings for her ex-step-brother Josh (Dave Thomas Brown).

“In the 90s, everything is awesome,” Cher declares and Clueless has ample 90s props to prove this point: there are pagers, blue iMac G3s, and VHS tapes. The garish, saturated lighting gives everything an unfortunate music video vibe, a quality further accentuated by a reliance on aggressive ensemble dance numbers.

Cameron (due to make her UK stage debut in The Light in the Piazza next year) is darling and perky as Cher, though her performance reads uncomfortably younger than a high schooler, while the rest of the cast looks creepily older. Of the capable supporting cast, Will Connolly, with his languid delivery and fluid movement, is particularly charming as the fried-but-kind stoner, Travis.

Kristin Hanggi’s staging is jam-packed with 90s tunes (both snippets and full songs). Heckerling rewrites the lyrics with mixed results. U Can’t Touch This is now She Can’t Hit This (about tennis balls), No Scrubs becomes No Shrugs — not exactly the wittiest transposition. The duets are more on-point – Cher singing a revised version of Torn, about her bad night in the Valley, Josh’s rendition of One of Us and their mutual-love realisation song, a version of She’s So High.

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A capable cast can’t save a tonally mismatched and awkwardly staged musical production of the popular 1990s film