To quote Veronica Sawyer “Lick it up baby. Lick it up.” And that’s exactly what the audience did at Heathers The Musical, currently playing at the Arts Centre Melbourne.
For those ‘misfits’ unfamiliar with the cult flick of ’88, it’s a satire on high school life, where the students of Westerberg High (a fictitious school set in Ohio) are ridiculed & belittled by a clique of 3 Heathers; Veronica included. That is, until she’s elevated to their inner circle – and gains the attention of JD, a brooding, charismatic psychopath & unwittingly, becomes embroiled in fake suicides and murder. She’s compelled to put an end to the madness & longs simply to be seventeen.
It’s an undeniably dark tale of teen angst littered with teen suicide, eating disorders, date rape, school massacres, homophobia and bullying. Narrative themes not normally associated with a hit musical – not until 2014, when it premiered off Broadway.
As Trevor Ashley in his directorial debut, for the Hayes Theatre in Sydney, in 2015 said, “It was sassy, energetic and a little bit wrong.” And I totally agree. It was wrong, but oh, so right.
There’s the bleakness of the original, the iconic moments & the infinitely quotable quotes but there’s also fun. High camp and laughter – laughter at the expense of someone else but fun, nonetheless.
In an interview in Playbill in 2014, Kevin Murphy & Laurence O’Keefe (Books, Music & Lyrics) read teen psychology books whilst researching and noticed trends that were eerily like a checklist of the characters in Heathers. Citing that “we live in a much more 'Heathers' world now, and part of that is definitely how relevant and socially interesting it is all these years later.” For them, “the subversive thing is to go the other way and to look for glimmers of hope, look for the moments of optimism, the moments of fighting back and seeking justice; where the heroine is active and tries to fix the world." Albeit, with a croquet mallet & a red scrunchie.
With acidic dialogue, incredibly witty and/or poignant lyrics & endlessly playable tunes (I must have the cast recording), characters’ monologues have been turned into big numbers – deftly and appropriately so.
Hilary Cole as Veronica Sawyer, Lucy Maunder as Heather Chandler aka the “Mythic Bitch” (in reprising her role from the Sydney production), Stephen Madsen as J.D. and Lauren McKenna as Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock/Ms. Fleming are all perfectly cast. Physically, emotionally & vocally embodying their respective roles all so “very” well.
Ooh, and the songs themselves. The poignancy of Beautiful, Fight for Me, Dead Girl Walking & I Am Damaged, the irreverence of Blue (what a hoot! With Vincent Hooper & Jakob Ambrose as Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly respectively, simply brilliant as the moronic jocks). The gospel inspired version of My Dead Gay Son (complete & resplendent with Rainbow flags draped over the coffins), the longing in Seventeen & the tenderness of Martha’s Kindergarten Boyfriend. But I won’t go on…
Cameron Mitchell’s choreography was clever, lewd & fabulous.
Angela White’s costumes were bang-on-trend for the 80s & that lavender windcheater that Martha was wearing, with a Care Bear/Unicorn(ish) motif, was inspired.
Emma Vine’s set design, comprising predominantly of gym lockers was ingenious – transforming from slushie dispensers in a 7-Eleven to Heather C’s bed to coffins & back again. As Ashley said, "I wanted it to look as if the students had put the show on themselves in their high school auditorium…sort of like a f**ked up school musical." They definitely succeeded.
With an almost fanatical audience, many sporting shoulder pads and big hair (one girl even recreating Veronica’s singed look), there was clapping and whooping aplenty. It was perfectly pitched as “hilariously homicidal” – how often can you say that, about a night out at the theatre?
Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Showwork present
Heathers The Musical
book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’keefe & Kevin Murphy | based on the film by Daniel Waters
Directed by Trevor Ashley
Venue: Playhouse | the Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 11 – 22 May 2016
Tickets: $74 – $104