HEATHERS THE MUSICAL
Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton
04/06/2021 - 12/06/2021
‘What’s your damage, Heather?’
Heathers the Musical is the darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful teenage misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. But before she can get comfortable atop the high school food chain, Veronica falls in love with the dangerously sexy new kid J.D. When Heather Chandler, the Almighty, kicks her out of the group, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and kiss Heather’s aerobicized ass … but J.D. has another plan for that bullet.
Brought to you by the award-winning creative team of Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness, Desperate Housewives), Laurence O’Keefe (Bat Boy, Legally Blonde) and Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness, She’s the Man), Heathers the Musical is a hilarious, heartfelt, and homicidal new show based on the greatest teen comedy of all time. With its moving love story, laugh-out-loud comedy, and unflinching look at the joys and anguish of high school.
The Meteor Theatre (1 Victoria Street, Hamilton)
Friday, 4th June – Saturday, 12th June 2021
Bookings at Patronbase.
PG – Parental guidance is recommended for themes of bullying, sexual violence, suicide, and drug use.
Emily Costello: Veronica Sawyer
Ben Wilson: Jason (J.D) Dean
Sarah Coleman: Heather Chandler
Mikayla Williamson: Heather Duke
Libby Turner: Heather McNamara
Cailyn Eccles: Martha Dunnstock
Patrick Ward: Kurt Kelly/Understudy for J.D
Nick Hall: Ram Sweeny
Nathan Smith: Adult Male 1
Nicholas Bourchier: Adult Male 2
Maria Eaton: Adult Female
Sherrie Roue-Walker: Young Republicanette/Understudy for Heather McNamara
Memphis Ward: Hipster Dork/Understudy for Kurt Kelly
Deanna Young: New Wave Girl/Understudy for Heather Chandler & Duke
Jessica Eyeinton: Stoner Chick/Understudy for Veronica
Joseph Morcom: Preppy Stud/Officer McCord
Jack Turner: Beleaguered Geek/Officer Milner
CREATIVES & CREW
Director: Mel Martin
Musical Director: Kirsty Skomski
Choreographer: Stephanie Balsom
Stage Manager: Missy Mooney
Lighting Design: Nathan Hancock
Lighting operator: Milla Swanson-Dobbs
Sound Design: Jason Crosby
Sound operator: Jason Crosby & Renee Autridge
Costume Design: Jacinta Parsons
Set Design: Mel Martin
Chief Mech: Phill Miles
Production Manager: Hannah Mooney
Marketing: Hannah Mooney and Yvonne Milroy
Theatre , Musical ,
Dark, delicious comedy elevated by stellar leads
Review by D.A. Taylor 05th Jun 2021
Heathers: The Musical shares a spiritual lineage, as I see it, with the likes of The Producers and Hairspray. These latter two projects began as movies that were critically well received but performed modestly or poorly in cinemas; they’d later develop cult-like status – due in no small part, I’d argue, to their at-times iconoclastic take on their subject matters, and later developed to Broadway-level musicals. Here they found favour and would later be made into musical films (both in 2007, as it happens). Heathers: The Musical will undoubtedly be on the big screen before long.
Here’s the backstory: Heathers, the 1989 movie (written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann) is a teen black comedy conceived as a counterpoint to the John Hughsian cinematic schmaltz of the era. The film explores bullying, sexual violence, suicide and drugs – teen issues to this day, but often skirted in the 1980s or left to Very Special Episodes of twee sitcoms.
Around 2009, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy developed the story for the stage, retaining the plot and weaving the dialogue into musical numbers. Heathers: The Musical opened in 2010 and soon became a ‘darkly delicious’ smash hit.
By way of plot, misfit Veronica Sawyer is in her last year of schooling at Westerberg High, simply trying to make it “safely through high school”. Her knack for forgery earns her favour among the powerful clique of Heathers Chandler, Duke and McNamara, and she soon becomes a colour-coded member of the club. Veronica falls for the misanthropic J.D., a brooding, Baudelaire-quoting type with an explosives-happy father.
After the Heathers prank Veronica’s overweight friend Martha, Veronica angrily resigns from clique. Thanks to J.D., a practical joke goes too far, and the ‘mythic bitch’ and head of the Heathers, Heather Chandler, is soon dead (though not gone). Here Veronica’s forgery skills come back to service – and so the farcical nature of the story takes us into greater heights of absurd, manic, pitch-black comedy taking to task sexual violence, bullying, homophobia, suicide and murder.
The stage – and in particular, musical theatre – is the perfect space to confront head-on the subjects that we’d otherwise be too scared to talk about, let alone laugh at. Musical theatre’s bombastic energy and penchant for catchy tunes sees fight scenes, bullying and coming out become big-band moments that lift us up or pull us along with nod-and-wink irony. And according to the basic premise of musicals – if you can’t say it, you sing it; if you can’t sing it, you dance it – the taboo becomes the iconic, the real and, we hope, subjects we can confront with maturity when the time comes to see them in a darker light. Not that Heathers: The Musical as a text addresses its subject matters flawlessly (there are a few holes in the plot), but to deal so with alacrity and humour deserves kudos.
But what you’re here for is either a soundbite, or to know whether Black Box Creative’s production of Heathers: The Musical is worth seeing. Tickets for the entire season sold out before opening night, so demand is high regardless of what reviewers think – and rightly so. From the outside, the “hilarious, heartfelt, and homicidal” show has been well promoted and smartly designed, promising to burst the Meteor Theatre stage with colour and sound. Does it deliver?
I’ve given what I hope are seen as firm but fair reviews of director Mel Martin’s work in the past. (For fairness, she and I have worked together tangential to the theatre, and I admire the work she does putting on exciting shows in Hamilton.) I thought her/BlackBox’s productions of Nick Payne’s Constellations (August 2020) and Romeo and Juliet (November 2017) suffered – or rather, the audiences did – from an exhausting runaway pace, so I was keen to see whether returning to the musical genre would be a better fit.
The musical is the right territory for Martin’s style, where the rapid-fire serve-and-return of dialogue and punching cadences sustain the energy needed for this at-times campy, always fun, consistently funny show. And, to be fair, in the last quarter of the story – no spoilers here – that tension does let go and the pacing slows as befits the narrative arc.
Let us get out of the way the minor pains, however. Accents from some supporting cast members slip distractingly between General American and New Zealand – not uncommon on the stage, but distracting nonetheless. I struggle with audio levels, feeling like the volume needs to be bumped up another 20% to hit that ocean of sound effect. This is less problematic when leads are belting – and what a contrast they make – but some of the ensemble work feels just below the volume where you get that giddy endorphin hit.
Some deliveries are lost to the music, or just lost to what sounds like on-and-off microphones and scratching of face mics against beards or long hair. Easy fixes, I hope. And I also hope that the later showings have more cohesion of the supporting ensemble, which feels a little loose and distracted for a relatively small cast.
But now, for celebrations. Emily Costello’s Veronica has balanced the outsider quality of the brainy misfit with the vocal confidence to win us over by the time the opening song closes. A strong lead, Costello owns the heart of the story, delighting and entertaining throughout with a disarming charm. Ben Wilson offers an I’m-so-bloody-interesting J.D. who slowly transforms from gentle-seeming outsider to full blown sociopath by the end – and his vocal range explodes with it, starting reserved at the back of his throat and growing in confidence as the show progresses.
It’s Sarah Coleman as ‘mythic bitch’ Heather Chandler who steals the stage, however. From her first appearance, red blazered and standing heroic over the stage, Coleman’s strut defines Chandler’s preppy swagger, while her pitch-perfect petulance and trilling demands make her a magnetic presence. Add to this Coleman’s impressive vocal power – one of the most accomplished on the stage – and every scene with her is a delight.
Equally strong is Mikayla Williamson as the petty and blackmailing Heather Duke, who later takes on the mantle of head Heather but retains her thematic, envy-rich green. While Duke is described as having ‘no discernible personality’, Williamson’s effortlessly charismatic presence brings to life Duke’s bouncing entitlement. Libby Turner is devastatingly good as Heather McNamara in symbolically timid yellow, razor-sharp in delivery and heart-breaking with a stained-glass solo, ‘Lifeboat’, in the second act – a performance that showcases a dizzying vocal punch and crisp clarity. If we don’t continue to see and hear Turner on the (musical) stage, it would be our loss.
Honourable mention also must go to Cailyn Eccles, who plays the put-upon Martha Dunnstock and whose ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ solo in the second act is a highlight of the night. The Martha character recurs, but is done a disservice in the script by not featuring more heavily and allowing us to explore the character more.
The success of the production as a whole comes from the musical direction of Kirsty Skomski and choreographer Stephanie Balsom, who have helped elevate an already strong cast of leads. Harmonies are powerful, the choreography intelligent and the experience worth the night. And special mention to the impressive stage feature – a first in the Meteor, as I understand – that lifts the show another level.
This dark, delicious comedy is elevated by stellar leads. I anticipate – hope – that Heathers: The Musical as a whole will hit its stride into the season, with the supporting elements just needing that small bump up to make the whole production sing.
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