“What’s your damage, Heather?” Contributor Lindsay B. Davis finds out at Heathers: The Musical.
The Daniel Waters film Heathers hit theaters in 1989 starring Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer, a newly indoctrinated fourth wheel member of a high school clique of three Alpha girls named Heather. With her fresh-faced innocence, quirky tomboy beauty and wry take on high school life informed by her outsider-turned-insider status, she is the perfect love interest for Christian Slater’s J.D., a sexy rebel with a murderous cause capable of seduction with a glance, raise of the eyebrow or simple “Greetings and Salutations.”
J.D. melts any target in his path and the chemistry between the couple motors a Bonnie and Clyde-like take down Westerburg High School’s popular crowd by way of murders successfully disguised as suicides. Heathers exposes the darker sides of 1980s high school life—from bullying and bulimia to scrunchies and shoulder pads—with a tone that feels part teen dramedy and part horror film camp. It was very ahead of its time. “How very?” Heathers deservedly found cult classic status, introduced such unforgettably delicious one-liners as “Lick it up, baby” and “F—me gently with a chainsaw”—into the cultural lexicon. Twenty-five years later, it is the inspiration for a dynamic off-Broadway musical at New World Stages with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness). Andy Fickman (also of Reefer Madness) directs a terrifically talented ensemble cast and the show’s seamless choreography is by Marguerite Derricks (Fame, Charlie’s Angels, Austin Powers films).
The adaptation is tight and entertaining from all standpoints. The fast-moving plot, catchy music, movement, bright costumes and a minimalist neon set create the trippy effect of being inside a bubble where crazy antics happen and murders cause seventeen-year-olds to break out into song and dance. Barrett Wilbert Weed (Lysistrata Jones, Bare) as Veronica has a powerhouse voice with stratospheric range and brings an emotional truth to her entire performance. Ryan McCartan (Disney’s Liv and Maddie), while affable, attractive and also solid on vocals, lacks the necessary edge that makes J.D. such a believable loner outcast capable of driving the story.
The Heathers, with Jessica Keenan Wynn (25th Anniversary Les Misérables) at the helm as Heather Chandler in what is a stand-out performance of the show, seem more Valley girls than Ohio suburban clique, and a few anachronistic moments (like hip hop slang references to “hommies” and “gangsta”) and minor modifications to original one-liners (“Haul your ass to the table pronto” instead of “Haul your ass into the caf, pronto!” comes to mind) made this Heathers purist squirm. But, the girls bring comedic chops, strong vocals and good chemistry to the stage, so it is all forgiven and quite fun.
Evan Todd and Jon Eidson add a dose of charm as Kurt and Ram, the Varsity football murder victims, and their post-mortem recurrence in tighty-whiteys makes for raucous fun. The darkness of the film doesn’t quite make it into the stage nor does the authentic sense of place (a bright pink convenience store on wheels kills the verisimilitude of a real suburban 7-11) but that does not render Heathers: The Musical any less entertaining. This is thanks to catchy songs (“Beautiful,” “Dead Girl Walking” and “Seventeen” being the most memorable and sing-along-able), a completely solid cast, and exuberant crowd support from the get-go. In the end, Heathers: The Musical, developed in Los Angeles at the Hudson Theatre, feels inspired by rather than deeply loyal to the film, but do not be surprised if this interpretation successfully transfers to Broadway. Make room for the swatch dogs and Diet Coke heads.
Heathers: The Musical
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
Through September 7.
Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.
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Like the cult movie to which it pays homage, “Heathers” the musical should score with all those teen misfits who fantasized about getting even with the popular kids who humiliated them in high school — which is to say, just about everyone. The witty Off Broadway show, penned by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, plays strong to a multi-generational aud ranging from digitized 20-year-olds to their parents and grands of the Gen X era, reaching all the way back to their Boomer forebears. Someone of the current generation should shake a leg and transfer this winner to Broadway. Variety
The production would be more digestible if it were at least a quarter shorter. Not that the audience with which I saw “Heathers” seemed to mind. As you may know, drinks — the hard, kicky kind that the Heathers imbibe illegally — are served in the lobby of New World Stages. And though I’m loath to advocate drinking and theatergoing, this might be a show to see while slightly buzzed. Everything is writ large enough to penetrate an alcohol haze. The New York Times
[The musical creators’] terrific pop score smartly expands the story while echoing its pitch-black but hilarious tone. The writers aren’t just going for jokes — there is real heft in the touching song “Lifeboat,” which depicts kids fighting for survival, and “Seventeen,” about youth. Some numbers are too on the nose — “My Dead Gay Son” is one — but they all go down easy. “Blue” captures a preoccupation of every teen guy. Marguerite Derricks’ 1980s aerobics-class choreography adds to the hilarity. Director Andy Fickman’s cast of mostly new faces is excellent. In the end, two words sum it up: How very. New York Daily News
This is a goofy show more dependent on inbuilt affection for the movie than on finessed execution. If it blunts the fangs of its inspiration, it at least salutes a late-’80s pop-cultural touchstone with the affection it deserves. The Hollywood Reporter