Heathers: The Musical has to be one of the balliest musical choices, not only for the challenge of casting performers able to sing its absolutely mammoth vocal score, but also for the fear of offending any unsuspecting audience members with its gratuitously crude, dark sense of humor. And so, when I first heard the announcement that University College would be producing such musical, I was a little scared for them. Heathers: The Musicalis a 2010 musical adaptation of the cult classic 1988 black comedy film ‘Heathers’ starring Winona Ryder, and become of the most beloved musicals of the 21stcentury. However, the musical is also seldom produced, especially by amateur companies and for obvious reasons. It tells the story of relative nobody, Veronica Sawyer, as she attempts to fit in and survive a highschool cruelly reigned by three popular girls, all named Heather. All seems well after Veronica is surprisingly inducted into the Heathers crew, casting old friends aside. This is until she falls for the school’s newest student, bad-boy Jason Dean, who dons black trench coat alongside his, shall we say…slightly skewed concept of ‘love’.
It was obvious from the moment the curtains were drawn that UC’s conception of this show was a passion project, lovingly devised and directed by a production team and cast who I can only assume to be ‘Heathers’ fanatics. Admittedly, the show wasn’t as polished as I would have liked it to be, but regardless it was evident that all involved were having the time of their lives performing this deviously funny script. I was particularly impressed by two performers: Georgia Elder-Hackford as Veronica brought a wealth of vocal strength and stamina to push through the insane vocal demand, and Mollie Farrell as Heather McNamara also displayed great vocal talent with an air of overall professionalism. Erica Roche performed well as the ‘mythic bitch’ herself, Heather Chandler. However I would have loved to see her bring a bit more of herself into the character, as at times her interpretation seemed too near an impression of Jessica Keenan-Wynn, who originated the role Off-Broadway. Andy Song as Jason Dean, Emily Bolton as Heather Duke and Claudia Young as Ms. Flemming all conquered the stage with great confidence and energy, but once again left something to be desired in the interpretation of their characters beyond the simple archetypes of ‘school shooter’, ‘mean girl’ and ‘teacher suffering a mid-life crises’. Honorable mentions go to James Cowling as Ram Sweeney and Liam Simes as Kurt Kelly, who brought a wonderfully playful fearlessness to their characters and commanded every scene they were in.
Unfortunately, the show suffered from some problems in the production aspects, which distracted from the dedicated performances of the actors and lowered the show’s overall quality. Upon hearing the initial school bell, which kicks off the show, I was disappointed to realise that there was no live band in this production, but rather a backing track. Whilst using a backing track ensures that music is always in time, on pitch and generally punchier, it also usually comes with the cost of having to deal with embarrassing audio failures and restarts, and the assumption that there were no UC residents able or willing to form a band, which chances are is simply not true. Additionally, I must describe the scene transitions as “painful” – regrettably, I have no other word to explain the shuffle of blackened chaos with microphones left on to reveal interesting whispered backstage conversations, and audiences left to sit in awkward, impatient silence for far too long. Finally, there were many instances where the lighting design made it almost impossible to see the expressions on actor’s faces which severely detracted from conveying any emotional impact to the audience (most notably in ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend”).
Overall, however, University College’s production of Heathers: The Musical was a fantastically fun production irrespective of technical issues. The production hit every laugh on offer in the script and even added some of their own comedic nuance! Producing a musical as challenging as Heathers is audaciously brave, and all involved in this production should be proud of their efforts.
University College’s production of Heathers: The Musical ran from the 9th-12th of August in the Union Theatre.