Back in 1998, teenage angst and social circle cliques found a murderous bedfellow with the movie Heathers. Veronica Sawyer (played in the film by Winona Ryder) was a teenager determined to find both independence and social advancement at any cost in the treacherous and hierarchical high school environment.
In the process, however, Veronica left herself open to the manipulative and murderous ways of Jason “JD” Dean (Christian Slater). A pre-90210 Shannon Doherty also starred in this black comedy as one of the namesake “Heathers” – three teenage girls with the same first name who dominated the Ohio USA school’s social scene with fear and hate and adopted Veronica as one of their own based on her excellent forgery skills.
Despite being a box office failure (grossing 1.1 million USD) and abound with themes such as teenage suicide, homophobia, mass murder, and even terrorism, the dark witted and now stereotypically bitchy one-liners gave the Daniel Waters film a cult following.
Empire magazine listed Heathers at position #412 of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (2008), season 3 of the equally cultish TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race featured contestants Delta Work, Carmen Carrera, Manila Luzon and Raja who referred to their bitchy and domineering clique as “Heathers”, and most recently there has been renewed activity to re-make Heathers as a TV show.
It is not surprising then to find that Heathers was made into a musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy in 2010, and achieved a successful off-Broadway stint in 2014. Now in Melbourne (Arts Centre Melbourne), Trevor Ashley (Les Misérables, Fat Swan) brings the croquet mallet wielding teenagers to the stage once more in his directorial debut. How very…
Those of you who wish to relive the wickedly delightful charm of the 1998 film will not be disappointed. Heathers: The Musical contains all of the best classic one-liners that are sure to be included in daily conversation for weeks after, as we each secretly wish to be the one who can don the coveted red scrunchie and rule the schoolyard as the head Heather.
Hilary Cole (Veronica) and Stephen Madsen (JD) lead the cast giving entertaining yet somewhat fragile versions of their namesake film version characters who were originally embodied with a delightful combination of selfish outsider independence and dark tantalising grace.
As a result both characters quite easily overshadowed by Lucy Maunder (Heather Chandler) who strutted her way through the production as the head Heather alongside her fellow Heathers – Rebecca Hetherington and Hannah Fredericksen, who each should have been given more of an opportunity to demonstrate their wonderful “Heatherness” to the audience.
The engaging (and rather distracting) sex-crazed and homophobic jock duo Jakob Ambrose (Kurt) and Vincent Hooper (Ram) kept the audience energised, and later as their respective fathers, gave arguably the most shocking and entertaining portion of the musical during and after their number, Dead Gay Son.
The star of the show however was Lauren McKenna, who played both Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock (who was in turn an amalgamation of the original Dumptruck and Veronica’s nerdy friend Betty Finn) and Miss Fleming, the hilarious and vivaciously eccentric teacher.
As Miss Fleming, McKenna belted out numbers that were even able to overcome the sound issues from the cast members’ microphones that unfortunately plagued the opening night’s performance, and as both characters McKenna kept the crowd in hysterics. Of all the interpretations this musical made from the original film, the portrayal of these two characters were amongst its saving graces, and gave reason for it to be a musical.
Although not a major grievance as the sound, the minimalistic set of lockers, that for the most part were creatively used to create each scene, managed to block the action from view at the most inopportune moments – including the most iconic death scene in the entire story. And it was only with the stage layout that you wish you could have helped JD’s plan to be successful.
Trevor Ashley should be proud of his first outing with the director’s cap on. As rough around the edges some part of this production was, you don’t need to be Mother Theresa to give this show praise, if wishing some dark humoured fun – you can certainly keep your chainsaw at home – as Heathers: The Musical is helping to keep the cult following alive.
Director: Trevor Ashley Cast: Lucy Maunder, Hilary Cole, Hannah Fredericksen, Rebecca Hetherington, Stephen Madsen, Lauren McKenna, Vincent Hooper, Jakob Ambrose, Stephen McDowell, Mitchell Hicks, Sage Douglas, Heather Manley Musical Director: Bev Kennedy Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell Designers: Emma Vine with Eamon D’arcy Costume Design: Angela White Lighting Design: Gavan Swift
Heathers the Musical
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 12 May 2016
Season continues to 22 May 2016
Information and Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au
Playhouse – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point (Sydney)
Season: 8 – 26 June 2016
Information and Bookings: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Image: Lauren McKenna (as Miss Fleming) and Cast in Heathers the Musical – photo by Kurt Sneddon
Review: Jimmy Twin