In 1988, when Heathers was released in cinemas, I was 12. I was in my final year of primary school and had just moved to Brisbane from a small town in mining Queensland. So it is no great surprise that up until last Friday, I hadn’t seen the movie. I wasn’t the target demographic on it’s release and it was just one of those films that remained on my “one day I”ll watch list”.
Ahead of seeing the Australian debut of Heathers: The Musical, I thought it might be a smart idea to watch the movie. Even though it was my first viewing, I was surprised how much not only the plot points I knew, but also the lines that have worked their way into cult-pop-culture.
When you see a musical adaptation of a movie, sometimes you do have to ask yourself “would have I understood / appreciated the musical as much if I hadn’t seen the movie”? With Heathers: The Musical, my verdict is I’m glad I saw the movie as it made those iconic movie moments they built into the show more identifiable and enjoyable.
Written by Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde and Bat Boy: The Musical) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness and Desperate Housewives) Heathers: The Musical is not only a highly enjoyable flashback to the late 80s, it is thoroughly faithful to the movie.
The first Australian production is directed by all around musical theatre savant Trevor Ashley (Les Misérables, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Fat Swan, Little Orphan Trashley), with musical direction from the incomparable Bev Kennedy.
The music is unmistakably 80s influenced and the lyrics are an effective mix of plot points, movie quotes and storytelling. Songs rang from the power ballads of “Beautiful”, “Our Love is God” “Seventeen Again”, to bop along pop of “Candy Store” & “Big Fun” to the downright hysterical “My Dead Gay Son” (which bought the house down). It certainly isn’t a PG show…think along the lines of Avenue Q.
All credit to the creative team – choreographer Cameron Mitchell, set designer Emma Vine and costume designer Angela White. The iconic red, yellow, blue & green colours of the movie were loyally present in the costumes – as were the shoulder pads and other classic 80s clothing trends. The small stage footprint of the Hayes Theatre was extremely well utilised with moving set pieces and even incorporating the main theatre staircase as an entry and exit point. I especially enjoyed the versatility of the high school lockers.
The ensemble cast comprised of Rebecca Hetherington, Stephen McDowell, Michelle Barr and the supporting character actors Lauren McKenna, Jakob Ambrose, Vincent Hooper, Libby Asciak and Erin Clare are all very solid and capable performers, with several of the playing dual roles in the show. The stand out for me was Lauren McKenna, whose two solos as her two characters, were some of the funniest but also the softest parts of the show.
Stephen Madsen (Rent, Sound of Music) as J.D. delivers a strong performance – especially against his powerful co-star, but at times I felt he was pushing the Christian Slater impersonation. I had trouble connecting with and understanding his character motivation, including also felt the infatuation and relationship with Veronica.
Playing the Queen Heather herself, Heather Chandler, Lucy Maunder (Songs In The Key of Black, Grease, Doctor Zhivago) has quite simply the best bitch face and pose in the business. She brings exactly the right amount of snark, ruthlessness and sheer and utter cruel-ness to the role, even after she meets her demise.
Which brings me to the absolute knock out star of the show Jaz Flowers (Hairspray, Hot Shoe Shuffle). As the misguided Veronica Sawyer, Flowers is the lynch pin of the show and her stunning voice and head-to-toe acting are simply a joy to witness. With some absolutely amazingly quick costume changes, she deftly takes you on Veronica’s journey and like in the movie, you are left well and truly on her side – despite her involvement in certain dark deeds.
If you are a fan of the movie or any of its modern day equivalents or if you’ve never seen the movie before, Heathers: The Musical is a certain must see. Especially as I’m sure the show many of this cast will continue their growth in the industry and you can say “I saw them when…”.
Heathers The Musical is currently playing at the Hayes Theatre.
For more information and tickets: www.hayestheatre.com.au