Since its inception in 2015, GJ Productions have taken on a number of varied musicals and plays, encompassing everything from traditional productions right through to Shakespeare and comedy cabarets. It’s in this drive to keep things fresh and exciting that the team at GJ have been hard at work on their next project, Heathers: The Musical. Co-founders of GJ, Grace Maddern and Jack Wilkinson are both heavily involved in the creative aspect of the show, with Maddern taking on producing and choreography duties, as well as a lead role within the cast, and Wilkinson working as Director. When it came to deciding to perform Heathers, this duo feels it’s the perfect fit for their company. “We really wanted to push ourselves as a creative team, and there is so much in Heathers to really sink our teeth into.” They both say with excitement. “We love stories with complex characters, and Heathers has just that! Our focus is always on the text, and this show has such fantastic songs and dialogue, that it’s definitely the right kind of show for our style of theatre making”.
And it’s in this style of theatre making at GJ that has allowed Maddern to push herself both creatively and within familiarity, as she takes on the role of Heather Chandler on top of producing and choreography for the show. “Heather Chandler is such a powerful presence in the show. She’s commanding and influential – which is such an important attribute for my work as part of the creative team. I’m able to see the show from three different perspectives, which gives me the chance to totally encompass the process of mounting this production. I have such a love for producing, and choreographing is second nature to me…but these will never tear me away from my true love of performing. It’s been quite the workload, but I’m enjoying every second!”, she enthuses.
When it comes to the music of Heathers, Maddern and Wilkinson wanted a team member on-board who not only shared their vision, but also had a love for the content. Enter Musical Director Peter Verhagen. “Heathers is just one of those shows that I had to do. I’ve always been a fan of that classic 80’s sound, and the score is incredibly intricate, and contrasts so heavily in emotion”, Verhagen says. “Every single cast member does an amazing job, and working with such talented performers means I can go in-depth with the challenges the score provides. There’s so many great moments…the blend of everything at ‘Meant To Be Yours’ gets me every time!”, he exclaims. When it comes to working at GJ, Verhagen says he feels right at home. “The team at GJ has been so lovely, and when I met Grace and Jack, I became so excited to work on the project! It’s such a fun, collaborative vibe.”
Collaboration is clearly of importance to Wilkinson, who as director, has taken on his own techniques of exploring the best way to bring his vision of Heathers to the stage. “I wanted to find something new in the show. I found sitting down with the cast and figuring out what motivates their characters has been a great way to find the humanity of maybe some things that may have been looked at as very black and white, good or evil. I’ve always believed in helping the actors find their truth, and tackling it this way has been such a rewarding aspect for me as a director”, he says.
Antoinette Davis, who plays the lead role of Veronica Sawyer in GJ’s Heathers, has looked at finding the truth in her character with a totally new approach. “Veronica is a challenging role…she walks a fine line between comedic and serious, with entertaining and poignant moments respectively”, Davis states. “I think I identify with Veronica frighteningly well at times. I’ve gone through some very interesting times and struggled with identity the way Veronica does, and being able to relate to her path has allowed a lot of personal growth for myself.” When it comes to moments within the show that Davis has found special to work on, “It has to be when Veronica stops Heather McNamara from attempting suicide. After all that’s happened leading up to it, I think that moment is just beautiful, and also very vulnerable for both of them. What also makes it so special for me is that Heather McNamara is being played by one of my closest friends, Morgan Dooley-Axup. Sharing that moment with her is just amazing, and the main thing Veronica is teaching me comes from that scene, showing that you are not defined by the choices you make and what happens to you, but how you react to it”, Davis says with passion.
Sharing the stage with Davis in the opposite lead role, is Jack Michel playing J.D. This role is not without its challenges, and Michel has taken to these with enthusiasm, and chosen to take the more ‘fun’ path when approaching his character. “My biggest interest in playing J.D was not to play him at surface level – that is, ‘angry kid who tries to blow up the school’ – but to really try and find the heart of the character”, Michel says. “Ultimately Heathers is a dark, twisted love story, so it’s important to me that the heart in it really shines through, because that’s when it can get really honest and intense. There’s a lot of different emotional colours in this show, and it’s been great fun!”.
It’s clear Maddern and Wilkinson are proud of the work they’ve put in to GJ’s vision of Heathers, and they can’t wait for audiences to see their version come alive on the stage. “Audiences can expect lots of laughs, a few tears, and incredible music. Expect to walk away with a greater appreciation for your fellow humans and the issues they may be dealing with under the surface.” they both say with excitement. “Our cast has really worked hard in bringing out these characters, and we can’t wait for you share this moment with them, and to see the amazing show we’ve all worked so hard to put together. It really is going to be something special.”
GJ Productions’ ‘Heathers: The Musical’ runs from October 26th – November 3rd at the St Martins Theatre, South Yarra. Tickets available from trybooking.com