Heathers The Musical

Heathers The Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kevin Murphey and Laurence O’Keefe. Based on the film written by Daniel Waters. Presented by Dramatic Productions (ACT). Produced by Richard Block. Directed by Kelly Robert and Grant Pegg. Gungahlin Theatre. 12 – 27 October 2018

The Heathers are a colour-coded, croquet-playing triad of pure teen bitch power. Veronica Sawyer tries to join the group but is ejected when she refuses to bully her friend. She falls in love with JD, an intellectual outsider with ideas for revenge. And that’s when the deaths start. People of my vintage will remember the dark, dark 80s movie about bullying, harassment, toxic love, revenge and murder in an Ohio high school, which was adapted to musical form in 2014. Dramatic Productions have pulled together a great show which is surprisingly chirpy but maintaining a lot of the jagged edges of the movie.

Belle Nicol makes a less morally ambiguous Veronica Sawyer than Winona Ryder was. Ms Nicol conveys a mix of chutzpah, vulnerability and intelligence and has a bold voice, nailing “Beautiful”, “Fight For Me” and “Prom or Hell”. Will Huang makes handsome JD. He must be charming enough to keep Veronica in love in order to overcome her moral objections to the small matter of his murdering her classmates. At the same time, his psychopathic evil has to show through. Huang brings it all together, oozing dangerous charisma. There’s enough chemistry between him and Veronica, although arguably more in one direction than the other. The duets between the two were great, the leads having strong compatible voices.

Then there are the three Heathers, the awful bitch clique ruling the school. Charlotte Gearside (Heather Chandler), Maddy Betts (Heather Duke) and Mikayla Brady (Heather McNamara) are relishing these peak mean girl roles. Their trio “Candy Store” was a highlight, with the three exuding an exaggerated bitchiness and they harmonise fabulously together. Pippin Carroll and Pierce Jackson are gloriously awful as jocks Ram and Kurt and don’t miss a beat on the utterly appalling but hilarious, embarrassingly explicit “Blue”. Chelsea Heaney nails two very different roles: Veronica’s daggy, bullied friend, Martha Dunnstock and school guidance counsellor Pauline Flemming. As Martha, she sings “Kindergarten Boyfriend” with poignancy, but as Mrs Flemming she belts out a full-throated gospel and jazz treatment to “Shine a Light”. The choreography is high energy contemporary dance, making good use of the dancing talent (notably Mikayla Brady with some acrobatic cheerleading moves). The band was excellent, keeping up with rapid tempo changes and a relatively complex score. The costumes and design were bang on for the late 1980s.

If there was one aspect that was a letdown, it was the lighting. Whether the actors were routinely missing their marks, the operation was off or the design had flaws I am not sure, but, people on stage were often inadequately lit – at one stage, the three Heathers were in the centre of the stage with the leftmost highlighted in a natural yellow/white while the other two were lost in a muted red. People would disappear into the gloom while singing solos.

Dramatic Production’s Heathers is a dark nostalgic trip with a killer script and lyrics. Highly recommended for those with a twisted outlook, although it has an M rating for sexual themes so it’s not recommended for younger teens.

Cathy Bannister

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