The Summer Company production of Heathers: The Musical opened to a sold-out audience at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theatre on June 26th. From the moment the Big Fun Band begins their jam to the final bows, it is evident the cast, made up of artists from varying backgrounds, is passionate about performing.
Heathers: The Musical, is based on the 1980’s campy cult film Heathers starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder. On the surface, this appears to be a standard 80 ’s angsty teen and high school turmoil story depicted through cleverly crafted tongue-in-cheek humor, but as the plot evolves we learn it is so much darker. The story is told by Westerberg High School student Veronica Sawyer, who reminds the audience the extent a 17-year-old will go to earn a seat at The Heathers’ lunch table.
The Heathers, perched at the top Westerberg’s teen food chain, are Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara. The trio stop at nothing to belittle, and bully their peers. The entire student body has a love-hate relationship with the Heathers, including Veronica, who is willing to do just about anything to fit in. After reaching the pinnacle of popularity Veronica realizes she doesn’t want to be part of the clique. When Heather Chandler hears this, she threatens to destroy Veronica’s reputation. Veronica turns to her love interest, bad boy J.D. and together, they plot revenge on the kids who have hurt or been mean to her. Only J.D.’s plans for revenge are much more nefarious than Veronica’s and suddenly she’s caught in the middle of protecting both her reputation and maintaining her moral high ground.
Heathers: The Musical, has been adapted for the stage by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe. They have revitalized Heathers with catchy tunes and lyrics that rival the edginess of the film’s dialogue. Murphy and O’Keefe also manage to keep the depressive themes depicted in the film; sexual assault, gun violence, and suicide but create a nice balance by incorporating moments of tolerance and acceptance. The story is twisted, but the music is catchy, the lyrics are full of wild witticisms, the costumes are colorful and nostalgic. Heathers: The Musical is dark, funny, and outlandish all at the same time.
Christine McGrath, as Veronica Sawyer, is outstanding in her role as a kid clawing her way into the popular clique. There were some moments when I had difficulty translating her awkwardness and quirky facial expressions. Was it opening night jitters or McGrath’s portrayal of Sawyers’ awkwardness? Overall, though, McGrath did have some really memorable moments, especially, Act One, “Fight for Me”, and her duets with J.D., played by Hayden Lounsbury. Their musical compatibility is most notable during, “Our Love Is God” and “Seventeen”. Lounsbury, unwaveringly flaunts the bad boy image His depiction of an intensely troubled teen is one of the strongest in the cast.
Cassidy Adkins as Heather Chandler lights up the stage. She adds just the right amount of sauciness to her smirk and delivers profanity-laced dialogue that is smart and sharp. Adkins shines extra bright during “Candy Shop” alongside, Kaleigh Ruiz portrayal of Heather Duke, and Carina Iannarelli as Heather McNamara. Both offer solid performances throughout the show. “Lifeboat” was not one of my favorite songs but Iannarelli’s delivery was quite touching. Other notable performances include Lawrence Karl and Jordan Schreiber as Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly. The two drew howls from the audience, during “Blue”. Joyce Hinnebusch as Martha Dunnstock presents a lovely rendition of “Kindergarten Boyfriend”.
Aside from the talents on stage, the direction of Justin Sines, choreographer Nora Nee, stage manager, Anna Cunningham, Elysse Dalzell and Olivia LeSuer alongside dance captain Jillian Lesaca create an incredible work of art. Expertly directed scenes, such as “Candy Store”, “Fight For Me” and “Hey Yo, Westerberg” performed. within the confines of the small stage are a testament to the talent of the production staff.
Lastly, I have to mention how much I love the set design by John E. Lane Jr. The mock Memphis Design; bitingly bright, pop art cubes, scream jelly bracelets and iconic MTV. The Big Fun Band, consisting of 2 keyboard players, a drummer 1 guitarist and a bass player, opened the show with an ideal 1980’s melody; beginning with Van Halen and concluding with Cyndi Lauper. They got the audience revved up for a bodacious blast from the past.
To say Heathers: The Musical is fun is an oxymoron. The show is full of irreverent jokes, tasteless puns, and a pop soundtrack with plenty of songs you will be singing along with snappy one-liners to introduce into your vocabulary once the performance ends.
Heathers: The Musical runs through August 12th, for tickets and more information click here.