YA4Ever’s Heathers: The Musical
Based on the 1988 cult classic starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, Heathers: The Musical follows high school outcast Veronica Sawyer as she tries to fit in with the popular clique of mean girls, the titular Heathers. When her plan backfires, Veronica and her boyfriend J.D., the new kid and budding sociopath, raise the stakes and get caught up in a carnage-filled plot to rid the high school of its bullies.
The cast, almost entirely consisting of age-appropriate young adults, blew me away. Carly Jean Paul as the grounded Veronica was extremely focused, and sang beautifully; she sounded just like the original Broadway recording, absolutely slaying “Dead Girl Walking” and “Seventeen.” Jared Price’s (J.D.) acting and facial expressions were on point through his character’s arc from weird new kid to life-threatening madman. By the time he sang “Meant to Be Yours,” Price was absolutely reveling in J.D.’s instability. The Heathers – queen bee Chandler (Karlee Squires), ditzy McNamara (Kate Fruehling), and opportunistic Duke (Shayde Bridges) – brought sassy menace to their rousing “Candy Store,” threats of humiliation, and classic one-liners. While Squires dominated during her time on stage, Fruehling had especially great comedic timing, and Bridges a voice I wish had more opportunity to shine.
As dumb popular jocks Ram and Kurt, Tal Toker and Jack Powell were absolutely hysterical in their bro-tastic and douchey “Blue” (a song all about having blue balls). I also give them massive kudos for spending the entirety of Act 2 in only their tighty-whiteys. The teased and belittled outcast, Martha Dunnstock, was played with heart-breaking warmth by Francesca Barletta, who also had a lovely voice. Her bittersweet optimism soared in “Kindergarten Boyfriend.” The remaining ensemble of high schoolers was upbeat and completely committed to stereotypical roles such as “Stoner Chick,” “Hipster Dork,” “New Wave Girl,” and “Preppy Jock.” There was not a weak link among them. Hannah Rachel Tamkin, Ryan Deremer, and William Carmichael – each playing multiple adult characters – embraced the archetypes we’ve come to expect from ‘80s entertainment, and were no less magnetic than the headlining young adults.
I have to give a special shout-out to Timothy Reese (director and scenic designer – a maddening 22 years old!), Scott Chew (technical director and set construction), and Lauren Alexander (properties) for their innovative use of the space. The three-sided stage, set mainly like a high school gymnasium, was easily manipulated into a bedroom, 7-11, and a pep rally. I was especially impressed with the multiple uses of the lockers that stored props and moved to establish locations.
To create a sense of time and mood, the lobby was decorated with the cast in a yearbook format, complete with crude jabs and mocking graffiti. The intro over the intercom, spoken by the “high school principal,” asked us to please turn off our videotape recorders and beta maxes – a campy tongue-in-cheek way to begin. Sarah Fanella’s energetic choreography incorporated fun ‘80s dance moves like the Running Man, and I really enjoyed the playful and silly slo-mo scuffle in “Fight for Me.”
While I liked the multi-colored lights and gentle fog that provided a sense of foreboding, there were several instances in which the actors could have been placed better to be properly lit, especially when our attention needed to be focused on one area of a very active group number. The fantastic orchestration (led by Tyler Stouffer) occasionally drowned out the singers; the mics should likely have been slightly louder, particularly in group numbers like “My Dead Gay Son” and “Beautiful.” Due to the three-sided sets, it was sometimes difficult to see the actors’ faces; while sitting in the center section, I often saw the backs of their heads.
Written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy (whose previous work includes Legally Blonde: The Musical), Act 1 was definitely stronger than Act 2. Missing the real-life taunting of Heather Chandler, Kurt and Ram, Act 2 dragged, the leads taking a backseat to supporting characters. Although the supporting cast did their best and were all solid, the main plot (and immediate threats) got put on hold for several songs, only to come back in the explosive finale.
I came into the show having rewatched Heathers on Netflix and loving several of the songs from the musical version, and I was still in awe of the very talented young cast. The songs are rangey and not easy, yet I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t in New York, except for the theater not being gigantic. As far as community theater – especially young talent – goes, this was quite a stellar production, and I loved the dark humor and social commentary brought to life in YA4Ever’s Heathers: The Musical.
Not suitable for children under 17.
The show runs Fri-Sun through January 14th.