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Heathers
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy
Based on the Film by Daniel Waters
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
New Line Theatre
October 2, 2015

Grace Seidel, Evan Forachon, Anna Skidis Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Grace Seidel, Evan Fornachon, Anna Skidis
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

I have a confession to make. I went to high school in the 1980’s and I’ve never seen the movie Heathers in its entirety. There’s no particular reason for this omission in my cinematic track record. I just never got around to seeing it beyond about 20 minutes of it on TV sometime in the 1990’s, even though it was always on my list of “movies I have to watch someday”. Still, even though I still haven’t seen most of it, the movie’s influence has not been lost to me, having heard it quoted and referenced in various places over the past two and a half decades. Still, as New Line Theatre’s excellent new production proves, one doesn’t have to have seen the movie to enjoy the musical adaptation, which has been brought to tuneful, colorful life by New Line’s top-notch cast and crew at the company’s shiny new venue, The Marcelle Theatre.

Essentially a dark, satirical look at “high school” films of the 80s, Heathers the musical definitely shows off the darker side of teenage life, although there is a glimmer of hope as well. It starts out, with the song “Beautiful”, setting the stage at Westerberg High School and introducing most of the main characters and cliques. We’re introduced to protagonist Veronica Sawyer (Anna Skidis), an amiable, ambitious high schooler who is relatively low on the social pecking order until she manages to get into the good graces of the school’s ruling set–three uber-popular girls of varying degrees of bitchiness who all happen to be named Heather. There’s group leader Heather Chandler (Sicily Mathenia) and her devoted cronies Heather Duke (Cameisha Cotton) and Heather McNamara (Larissa White). The Heathers and their football player pals Ram Sweeney (Omega Jones) and Kurt Kelly (Clayton Humburg) rule the school and basically dictate the social order. One problem for Veronica is that her newfound popularity has put her at odds with her longtime best friend, the sweet, nerdy and constantly bullied Martha Dunnstock (Grace Seidel). There’s also outsider and loner J.D. (Evan Fornachon), who appears on the scene to shake up the status quo and challenge Veronica to decide where her true loyalties lie. Unfortunately, J.D.’s methods are problematic to say the least. It’s basically a battle for Veronica’s soul, and J.D.’s as well, to a degree, as well as a challenge to the idea of high school cliques and labels, and what those say about a person’s true identity and potential.

The tone of the play starts out somewhat upbeat but gets darker as the plot moves forward, and especially in the second act.  There’s a lot of raunchy and somewhat twisted humor, as well, fitting the darkly ironic tone of most of the story.  But there are some poignant moments amid the comedy, as well, again especially in the second act, with Veronica’s challenge to J.D. in “Seventeen”, Heather McNamara’s revelatory “Lifeboat”, and especially Martha’s heart-wrenching solo “Kindergarten Boyfriend”. In fact, the tone shifts early in the second act to get more and more ominous, as Veronica is confronted even more with J.D.’s dark ideas and nature, as well as the idea that people do not have to be forever bound by the labels they’re forced into by high school culture.

The cast here is first-rate, including a few New Line veterans like the terrific Skidis as Veronica and Fornachon as the charming but dangerous J.D. These two display a fiery, intense chemistry, excellent stage presence and great voices. There’s also the impressive White in a vulnerable performance as the least bitchy Heather, McNamara. Many of the other performers are New Line newcomers, including Mathenia and Cotton who give virtuoso “mean girl” performances as Heathers Chandler and Duke; and Jones and Humburg, who are ideally cast as the superficial, sex-crazed jocks Ram and Kurt.  The most obvious “find” of this production, though, is Seidel, who gives a wonderfully nuanced, sensitive performance as the beleaguered Martha. There’s also excellent support from the rest of the cast, mostly made up of actors who are making their New Line debuts. The top-notch singing that I’ve come to expect in every New Line show is on full display here as well, as well as strong choreography by Robin Michelle Berger.

Technically, this production makes the most of New Line’s new black box theatre, the Marcelle. The space is smaller than New Line’s last space, but it seems incredibly versatile, and it will be interesting to see how it’s used in future productions. Here, Rob Lippert’s set is sufficiently colorful with its bright color scheme and versatile modular design, and Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting is appropriately atmospheric. The costumes, designed by Sarah Porter, are just right for the characters and the overall late 1980’s theme of the show.

Heathers is a memorable show, with a message that seems to be about how high school is not the end, and how people aren’t free to decide someone else’s future and what they will become. High school roles are often superficial and not set in stone. The song “Seventeen” is a reminder that while the teenage years don’t last forever, they can be enjoyed and savored in the little moments of life. It’s a dark, sometimes brutal show, but with a surprisingly hopeful ending, and it takes the “high school movie” genre and examines it in intriguing ways.  It’s a spectacular production, highlighting the always excellent singing that New Line is known for, as well as some strong characterization and a great use of New Line’s new theatre space. Heathers the musical is a hit whether you’ve seen the movie or not. Now, however, I think I’ll make a point of seeing the film.

Cameisha Cotton, Sicily Methenia, Larissa White Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Cameisha Cotton, Sicily Methenia, Larissa White
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre’s production of Heathers is running at the Marcelle Theatre in Midtown until October 24th, 2015.

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