‘Heathers: The Musical’ was very.
Serving up some “big fun” with the latest rendition of ‘Heathers: The Musical’, On The Boards Theatre Company have presented a killer show that dishes plenty of “damage”.
Debuting off-Broadway in 2014, ‘Heathers: The Musical’ has had a cult following since its film predecessor. The story, based on the 1988 cult film starring Shannon Doherty and Winona Ryder, can be defined as the original ‘Mean Girls’. The plot tells of Veronica Sawyer and her pursuit to fit in with the hottest high-school clique, the Heathers. Despite falling for a disturbed vigilante classmate, J.D, while in her prime, Veronica learns to teeter the fine line between popularity and revenge.
Fans of the hit musical are commonly drawn to its sassy wordplay, unapologetic beats and satirical take on the preppy high-school culture. In 2018, the musical production landed its spot on West End, but while this huge success gave it the glory it finally deserved, writers Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy took the opportunity to rework certain songs and revamp the score.
To the dismay of many fans, the new version has discarded hits like ‘Blue’ and replaced it with the ‘Heathers: High School Edition’ track ‘You’re Welcome’. There are also multiple changes to lyrics which censor drug and sexual references. For example, the line in ‘Big Fun’ that once read, “grab that joint and roll it right”, is now “don’t step close you might ignite”.
In an interview with Playbill, the creatives spoke of how the new Broadway edition aims to counteract polarising views that claim previous songs made fun of serious matters (like date rape) and present itself as a mature development moving the musical into the next phase of its life. For On The Boards Theatre Company, they had a wild time dealing with the content changes, counteracting the censored version with overplayed, sexualised actions. However, despite their efforts, it wasn’t enough to stop the script from feeling a lot tamer when compared to the previous, no-holds-barred version.
Director and Set Designer, Lyn Palgrave, has crafted action to seamlessly move across the wide stage of the Wynnum Star Theatre. The space, which is grand in size, accommodated the large ensemble; with simple scaffold structures raised on various levels to depict different areas within the storyline. On occasion, set-pieces would roll in from either side of the stage to facilitate the main plot points (like a 7/11 Slushie Stand, seats for Church pews, etc.). It was a simple and effective directorial style, made possible by a dedicated Stage Crew team.
Lighting Design by Ben Hussey and Reuben Stewart featured a spectrum of colours and spotlights that swept across the stage. At times, cues were missed, which meant actors were left in blackouts for too long or started scenes without stage lighting. As the production becomes comfortable with the action, these transitions will sharpen and tighten within the show.
It was evident Choreographer, Sarah Spina, had a lot of fun creating each routine. Of note, was the work in ‘Shine A Light’ which used choir books in a sun rotation, and ‘My Dead Gay Son’ which moved funeral guests around different seats. Spina worked to the strengths of her ensemble, while not forgetting the dirty dance moves expected in ‘Heathers: The Musical’.
Conductor and Musical Director, Julie Whiting, who stood-in last minute for the show’s Musical Director Taylor Holmes, put her heart and soul into leading the band, which appeared larger than life in sound, despite its size. Whiting is a professional in this industry and it’s no surprise she’s in constant demand for her skilful direction. Her tight grasp on the score was reflected in the pace of the performance. Holmes had arranged the band effectively and successfully configured vocal cues and harmonies prior to her unfortunate illness. Together the music assisted the performance and worked well.
As a cast of a substantial number, there were some very strong performances that personified many wicked characters. In the starring role of Veronica Sawyer, Sophia Dimopoulos was exceptional and by far a standout. The brunette bombshell transitioned from geeky schoolgirl to wannabe popular girl, and back again, with absolute ease and her emotional and fine-tuned characterisation was completely believable. In her vocal work, Dimopoulos slayed tracks like Girl Walking’ and ‘Seventeen’, showing her incredible range and vocal gymnastics.
Katrina West as the ditzy follower, Heather McNamara was also ‘on point’. Her performance within the song ‘Lifeboat’, where the lights faded out from everyone to just centre on her character, was really well-done. In her yellow uniform, it was hard not to notice West’s performance in the backbiting clan. Another great portrayal came from Hannah Macri as Martha Dunnstock. Her ballad ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ pulled at heartstrings. On a cold Winter’s night, it was also hard not to wish we were wearing Macri’s pastel-coloured tracksuit.
Georgina Purdie also perfectly portrayed the fame-hungry Pauline Fleming and her actions during her song ‘Shine On’ was comical. Purdie also showed her versatility as Veronica’s Mum; as did Ian Moore and Stuart Fishers with multiple roles respectively. Aaron Griffiths also handled the angsts of J.D (Jason Dean) and really gave it his all to portray the psychotics of the character, a highlight being ‘Meant to Be Yours’.
Rounding out the mean-girl club, Stacie Hobbs was authoritative and demanding as head-Heather, Heather Chandler. At times, Hobbs could have found more variation within the ‘bitchiness’ of the character, however, she maintained a holier-than-thou presence on stage true to the role. Sophie Jackson played Heather Duke and was equal amounts diva, claiming the hair-tye throne after her leader’s poor demise.
Despite the new script changes, much of the Heathers style remained true to previous onstage versions and the design was recycled – including the familiar chequered pleated skirts, with oversized scrunchies and knee-high socks. The new presentation didn’t look or stage differently, just dialogue was noticeably milder.
Fans of the musical won’t be too disappointed with the changes, after all, a chance to see the Heathers in the flesh and hear the catchy score live is always a great night out. On The Boards Theatre Company have delivered an upbeat, sassy show. So what’s your damage – it’s time to tear up this lawn while you have the chance.
‘Heathers: The Musical’ performs until Saturday, 27 July 2019 at Wynnum Star Theatre. For more information visit TryBooking – Heathers: The Musical.