‘Heathers: The Musical’ was big-fun.
With its raw, edgy and pop-infused style, ‘Heathers: The Musical’ has fast become a fan-favourite among theatres and young audiences globally. A show that centres on the perils of high-school and the reign of popular kids, it packs a lot of punch (literally) with entertainingly high stake action and concerningly relevant topics.
For the Brisbane Academy Musical Theatre (BAMT), a training organisation associated with Harvest Rain Theatre Company, the musical is a great choice to showcase the talents of its current up-and-coming performers. With a cast number well over 30, the creative team of ‘Heathers: The Musical’ have created an engaging production that successfully and wholeheartedly incorporates all the trainees.
Storywise, the “Heathers” are a group of mean-girls, who people love to hate because they’re perfectly popular. Donning scrunchies on their wrist, like some classic cult, they raise hell at Westerberg High and against its students. For the beautiful and brainiac Veronica Sawyer, her ability to forge notes lands her a starring role in this flawless clique. But just as she’s getting comfortable, she meets the dangerous newbie J.D who has a thirst not only for Veronica and Slurpee’s, but to get revenge against those keen on making school-life a living hell.
Directed by Jess Purdy, who was ably assisted by Georgia Lewis, ‘Heathers: The Musical’ moved around the large stage space with ease and scenes bounded along with purpose. Set design consisted of four school lockers on wheels, and Purdy and Lewis used these elements to their advantage. Moving the structures into various configurations, they created locations and rooms, zoning areas to effectively transport audiences to the numerous places mentioned in the script. For example, when placed in a ‘L’ shape stage left the lockers became bathroom stalls, but when moved to a ‘V’ shape centre stage they were the corridors of the high-school, in which students used them for their intended purpose. Additionally, in each locker were several hidey holes for easy access of props. This ingenious cohesion between direction and set design created fast scene changes, which ensured the pace skipped along in a seamless display.
Another entertaining component was the choreography by Callum Mansfield, and his assistant Kurt Myhill. The dancing duo allowed an extremely large number of ensemble members to have their individual moments within the production. From the beginning to the end, there were many choreographic highlights. Of note was the way the students concertinaed their way onto stage at the start of the production, hiding and appearing from the moving set pieces as they rolled out, during ‘Beautiful’. Feel-good celebrations were aplenty within ‘Shine A Light’, which in turn showed the radiance of the whole cast. And lastly, within ‘Dead Girl Walking Reprise’, the use of the ensemble stamping their feet during dialogue really amplified the tension. It was all cleverly executed.
Musical Direction by Dennett Hudson ensured students reached their full vocal potential. Although no band was present, and backing-tracks were used, Hudson encouraged his performers to ignite their roles with vocal flair.
‘Heathers: The Musical’ is a dark and delicious comedy that pokes fun at high-school stereotypes. Its wit lies within the scripts snappy dialogue, over-the-top character arch’s and dark humor. Unfortunately, some of these moments and phrases were lost due to the inconsistent sound levels, where microphones weren’t working properly. Not only is the Hayward Street Studio a large space, and naturally sound is swallowed in the rafters, but when action was constantly happening it was hard to know who was speaking and at what time. In fact, sometimes microphones didn’t turn on, and the audience had to search for the character. Regardless, tech is a notorious feat, and over time these circumstances should become more polished. A refocusing on the mic-plot will help rectify these issues.
Together the ‘Heathers: The Musical’ cast united to create a production of epic proportions. In the leading role of Veronica, Chelsea Sales was commanding, intellectual and displayed vocal prowess. Although she didn’t don the character’s signature blue colours, which traditionally reflects Veronica’s thoughtful personality, Sales personified the character and was well cast. At times, she could have projected her voice louder, as the audience missed some of her character’s witty one-liners.
Heather Chandler reaches her demise in the story pretty quickly and Leia Brook’s brazen portrayal of this sassy student was welcomed by the audience. With a crimped blonde 80’s styled wig and signature red fashion, Brook strutted along the stage like she owned it. As the antagonist of the storyline, she was powerful and commanding.
Nathan Wheeler and Gabriel Tiller as Kurt and Ram respectively were boisterous and loads of fun. The two lads had great friendship and chemistry, delivering dialogue with precise comedic timing and physicality. The audience adored the two jocks, even letting out an audible ‘awe’ and plenty of hysterics during ‘You’re Welcome’, despite the songs concerning themes.
Victoria Roberts as Martha Dunstock delivered the best vocal highlight of the night, in her character’s sweet, yet sad ballad, ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’. With much passion behind her performance, she sailed over notes ‘like a unicorn with wings’, and her delivery will be talked about long after the show has finished as her vocal ability left goosebumps.
With much kudos going to the entire cast for creating an atmosphere full of infectious energy, it was Cristian Robba-Colley as J.D (Jason Dean) who commanded full attention and stamped this show, not only as his own, but as the total standout. Robba-Colley was insanely psychotic as the mysterious bad-boy, showing angst in every facial expression, and was equally dynamite when displaying his character’s intent. His duet, ‘Seventeen’, with Sales was emotionally on point, and ‘Meant to Be Yours’ really showcased Robba-Colleys’ great abilities in singing and acting; with oodles of light and shade during the song.
The talent among BAMT was easy to envy. ‘Heathers: The Musical’ was conceptualised with minimalist styling and larger than life performances. There was a great level of cohesion spotlighting the many abilities of the organisation. In the hands of these emerging artists, musical theatre has a great future.
‘Heathers: The Musical’ performs at Hayward Street Studios until Friday, 5 December 2019. For tickets, visit BAMT’s Website.