Sunday, May 25, 2014

The 80s Movie Heathers Song & Dance

Add another movie-turned-musical to the ever growing list of movies as source material for the stage. This time, it's the 1988 cult film "Heathers" - a black comedy starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty. The film came before several other films such as "Mean Girls" and "Easy A" that gave us looks into the life of high schoolers simply trying to make their way through that rough rite of passage. The difference (for those that never saw the film) was that the mean kids were killed off with blame placed on suicide.

This was before Columbine and the endless other horrible acts that have happened in schools the past 25 years since the film came out (including the latest shooting in California). That the creative team of Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe would even attempt to bring Daniel Waters screenplay to the stage speaks volumes about the type of writers these two men are. It's the same men behind Reefer Madness, Bat Boy and Legally Blonde - other subjects one wouldn't think screamed to be made into a musical. But I must say, these men know how to write catchy tunes, clever lyrics and send us out humming their songs. I found that I enjoyed this just as much as the dark musical Bat Boy - even if watching it 25 years later changes my viewpoint on the storyline. (However, I also felt it best to know the film as we miss some backstory in this incarnation.) I did believe there was a conscious decision to keep everything in a surreal place so as not to muddle the lines of the reality we now live in 2014 versus the different world of the late 80s.

Seeing it on Memorial Day weekend, there were some understudies stepping into roles - but this ensemble is a well-oiled machine and boy, do they work hard. The never-stopping choreography. The 'adults' playing multiple roles and changing clothes constantly. And everyone in the show belting flawlessly to the rafters at New World Stages. The audience I saw it with was eating up every moment of it - either cheering on the memory of the film or perhaps recalling their own days in high school. No matter how old we get, we realize that high school works on a class system and this musical illustrates it all too well.

Barrett Wilbert Weed is wonderful as Veronica - making it her own and not giving us a carbon copy of Ms. Ryder (which sometimes occurs when a film is turned into a musical). She has an amazing voice, an infectious laugh and an adorable quality which can't be stifled. Dan Domenech stepped into the dark trench coat of J.D. at the performance I saw and definitely gave a layered performance of the character - never once slipping into the Jack Nicholson parody that Slater did in the film. The "Heathers" were all amazing as were each ensemble member of the company. (Seeing Anthony Crivello on stage again after seeing him in Kiss of the Spider Woman so many years ago was also a real treat.)

Heathers: Film
I couldn't help but wonder how these 20-somethings feel about sharing such a story on stage when we hear so much about bullying and are in constant debate over gun control because of school shootings, but in some way I suppose…they are still keeping the dialogue alive and making us discuss it. You can't help but leave this show and think about all of those horrible acts that have played out in real life. For this show - it's all filtered through song and dance. Like Carrie turning against those that did her wrong, this story deals with similar subject matter - yet with more of a redeeming second act. 

I definitely recommend it for a fun time at the theater when one is looking for an escape from the outside world and go out singing about being seventeen.

As a side note, our visit to the theater is often shaped by what happens around us. At this particular performance, I was seated near someone who made it clear he worked for the marketing team of the show. He also sang along, indicated what was coming next (sometimes with over exuberance of laughter and excitement), shook the seats in front of him with his eagerness to get others involved in the clapping and cheering and pretty much left a sour musical note experience for this theater-goer. I'm all for showing support for those you know on stage, but when you're employed by the production in one way or another - sometimes less is more.

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