GJ Productions hit the stage with their fifth production, Heathers: The Musical, in all its dark-comedy, teen-angst, lunch-tray gloriousness. Throw on those shoulder pads, tease that hair and dust off those croquet mallets, this musical is full on and doesn’t apologise.
A few onstage costume changes were tricky and may have been helped along a little by a slight change in design i.e. having Veronica wear tights when there is such a quick change during ‘Dead Girl Walking’; then, after the raunchy scene when they have to put it all back on again before they can move on to the murdering, it was a little slow and could have been avoided by socks instead of tights but as mentioned, that seemed to be a deliberate choice.
The inspiration from the film didn’t stop there – they included dialogue and a few choice moments that fans of the musical may not have picked up on, but added to the 80s nostalgia on which this show rides.
The beauty of a show like Heathers is that you can create the scene with as much or as little detail as you like. GJ Productions chose a black box styled set, perhaps in a bid to focus the attention on the performers. St. Martin’s Youth Theatre is a quaint space which did feel a little inhibited when both the band and cast were present, but the direction did allow for the best use of the space for the most part.
The use of a live band on stage was both positive and slightly negative, in the sense that it was fantastic to see the musicians right there creating the music. The negative came in the same vein when it was easy to forget the stage performers and focus on the musicians switching instruments, or being mesmerised by musical director Peter Verhagen conducting with such grace.
There were a few sound issues: a couple of mics not switched on, and a missed note or two, but nothing that can’t be overlooked as the overall performance was pretty clean and tidy.
GJ Productions is clearly a company that gives emerging artists an opportunity to get their jazz shoed foot in the door of this booming industry. This is evident because of the younger age of the cast and crew and the sheer enthusiasm they bring to the stage.
Under the watchful eye of Jack Wilkinson, one half of the ‘GJ’ duo, this show had a focus on the performers over all other elements. Even though this meant that the lighting was simple , there was no set and just the essential props, it didn’t feel lacking in production values.
The small details in this show were the truly great moments. The individual quirks and character flares were seen by the audience, as the intimate setting allowed for that. Moments like the hilariously choreographed slow-motion fight scene in ‘Fight For Me’ or the unique ensemble performances were really well received. Although not in this scene specifically, and despite very prominent warnings about use of violence and sexual themes, this show was rather intense at times leaving the audience to decide if some of the pushing, shoving and physical sexual suggestions were a little more forceful than necessary and/or necessary at all.
Another unique choice in this production was to avoid the labelled ensemble roles and condense those roles down. The cast was small but alert, and it meant that quick character changes were in abundance, but the cast seemed to pull it off without much of a hitch at all. It was a little distracting to see ‘dead’ characters show up at their own funeral as mourners, singing and dancing to ‘Dead Gay Son’, but that is really just community theatre at its core.
A specific nod to Antoinette Davis for her performance as misfit-turned-popular-girl Veronica Sawyer. Davis has a truly beautiful voice and a great feel for the smaller details of Veronica’s character. Although I have heard more powerful voices tackle Veronica’s long, long list of songs, Davis really fell in to the character and brought her own unique twist.
Another special mention goes to Timothy Ian McMullin for being one of the most enthusiastic and hilarious ensemble cast members – his facial expressions during ‘Shine A Light’ had the audience in absolute stitches.
Grace Maddern (the other half of the ‘GJ’ team) should be commended on some great choreography, taking elements from the original stage production and adding her own fresh take on the music.
The enthusiasm of the cast and crew is fantastically evident in this production and although it might not be the flashiest or most precise reinvention of Heathers, this show holds its own. Such a new company should be proud of what they have achieved with this production.
Heathers: The Musical runs till November 3rd 2018.
Photo credit: Matthew Howat.