Heathers: The Musical
QPAC & Showwork Productions
January 9 – 17 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
We’re all damaged, we’re all frightened, we’re all freaks but that’s alright.
Eat or be eaten.
Based on the cult film (1988) starring Winona Rider and Christian Slater, Heathers – The Musical received its sold-out developmental premiere in Los Angeles in 2013 after years of development following a concert reading at Joe’s Pub (NYC) in 2010.
Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw! Heathers: The Musical is outstanding, it’s such a fantastic, timely surprise! After last year’s movies-to-musicals Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom failed to exceed expectations, Trevor Ashley’s Heathers: The Musical succeeds mightily on all levels. Book online and be quick about it because this gorgeous, talented company are only here until January 17.
Whether or not you’ve seen the cult film that inspired the Off-Broadway hit, this show demands your attention. With book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness), Heathers: The Musical brings the microcosm of nauseating, alienating high school life to the stage. Nominated for nine Sydney Theatre Awards, this production originated at Hayes Theatre thanks to a golden ticket from Hayes Theatre Co. (Let’s hope Hayes sends some more world class product our way). It sees cabaret and musical theatre performer Trevor Ashley in the director’s chair for the first time and from the look and feel of this stellar effort it won’t be his last. In fact, Ashley may have found his new calling – this wicked show allows him to flex his creative muscles and really play, stretching to the limit the devilish humour he loves so much.
A1 production values, cheeky comic interpretation and some exceptional Australian talent means Ashley’s production surpasses the original minimalist attempt at New World Stages. See for yourself.
The book is fast paced and nicely condensed for the stage, more entertaining than horrifying, not a bad thing in musical theatre. The music is fantastic, easily passing the whistle test, much of it memorable days later. Immediately we hear the same chirpiness and witty extrapolation of Legally Blonde, and the punchy yet haunting sound and style of Next To Normal. It’s a neat blend of pop and rock, basic enough to be broadly accessible, that is, if you’re over the age of 14 and can’t be offended by strong language, intense adult themes and references to alcohol, drugs and guns. That’s right. Don’t know the story? Don’t take the kids. Strangely, Heathers: The Musical doesn’t come with a trigger warning. No pun intended. The story stays true to the original film.
In order to get out of the snobby clique that is destroying her good-girl reputation, an intelligent teen teams up with a dark sociopath in a plot to kill the cool kids.
Kirby Burgess is Heather #1 – the Almighty Heather Chandler (until the show goes to Melbourne in May, when Lucy Maunder returns to the role), and straight from playing the naive Baby in Dirty Dancing, Burgess effortlessly morphs into the wealthiest, wickedest, cutest bitch from hell…er, high school.
Joined by Libby Asciak (Heather Duke) and Erin Clare (Heather McNamara) the three mean girls appear to be impenetrable. Their slick and sassy Candy Store perfectly introduces them and intimidates…everyone else. But beneath their perfectly preened eighties’ exteriors even the Heathers are damaged, and the real story of how tough high school can be comes through in a surprisingly genuine way, not least within the layers of Clare’s standout Lifeboat, stinging long after the final note fades.
The phenomenal Jaz Flowers embodies social misfit Veronica Sawyer without needing to channel Winona Ryder or Barrett Wilbert Weed, bringing her unique brand of sass to the role, reminding us (in case you needed reminding) that she’s one of our brightest musical theatre stars. Her renditions of Beautiful, Fight For Me and Dead Girl Walking are powerful, informed, lingering things. Flowers’ energy and careful attention to detail, not to mention her powerhouse vocals, drive the show. Paired with the super tall, super talented Stephen Madsen as the trench coat clad sexy sociopath, the richly textured duets (Our Love Is God, Meant To Be Yours and Seventeen) provide the stuff of a love story so believable that the lines between right and wrong become blurred for us too.
I just want my high school to be a nice place.
Of course, our investment in the relationship is largely due to Madsen looking just enough like Slater on stage to win us over even before uttering a word. Freeze Your Brain is silly and funny and seductively sung. Where has this guy been?! Next, he’ll be seen as Richard Loeb in Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story.
Our love is God. Let’s go get a slushie.
Lauren McKenna shines as Martha – her spotlit solo Kindergarten Boyfriend is tragically, hilariously poignant – but also as Ms Fleming, stealing the show with her all-singing, all-dancing whole school healing session. We’ll see McKenna next in HR’s Hairspray Arena Spectacular in the role that made Flowers famous.
Vincent Hooper (Ram Sweeney) and Jakob Ambrose (Kurt Kelly) play to the hilt those horny footballers, earning plenty of laughs and little gasps because, well, they’re cute too. N.B. No cows are tipped during this production.
MD Bev Kennedy leads a sensational sounding band (a pity about the opening night mix) and the ensemble shines in The Me Inside of Me, a surprise reprise of the boys’ hilarious number Blue and an even more surprising gospel number, Dead Gay Son. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography throughout is first class. With a beat change and a break up,Yo Girl successfully builds the tension needed during a tricky, speedy denouement. It’s a tough ending to pull off and this production almost succeeds in creating the same level of horror and humour in the original movie scenes before its upbeat Broadway-worthy finale and extended curtain call. Emma Vine’s inspired set design, Gavan Swift’s lighting and Angela White’s cute costumes contribute vivid colour and distinct style.
I don’t know how Trevor Ashley made this show happen whilst playing Master of the House Thenadier in Les Mis but he’s done it and he’s done it in the same masterful way. If you miss Heathers here you’ll have to catch it in Melbourne in May, and if you miss it there you should see what you can do to help get it to Broadway. It would be a shame to see Fickman’s underwhelming production go there before Ashley’s does. The red scrunchie should go to Trevor Ashley next. This show wins everything.