There’s no damage here, Heather.
Dig up your scrunchies and dust off your croquet mallets, but leave the red ones for Heather Chandler if you want to survive at Westerburg High. Your favorite ‘80s cult-classic flick about teen cliques and serial murder is now an Off-Broadway musical, packing all the sweet, maniacal joy of a Slurpee-induced brain freeze.
Based on Daniel Waters’ 1988 film starring Winona Ryder, Christian Salter, and Heather-for-life Shannen Doherty, the musical adaptation by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe doesn’t skimp on the camp (simulated piñata sex, anyone?) and goes toe to toe with the movie’s R rating for violence, profanity, and sex (oh, my!).
Serving her own brand of classic Winona angst, Barrett Wilbert Weed plays Veronica Sawyer, our dry-witted everygirl heroine who becomes the latest recruit in her school’s resident clan of popular mean girls, the Heathers—Mmes. Chandler (Jessica Keenan Wynn), Duke (Alice Lee) and McNamara (Elle McLemore).
Unlike Waters’ movie, in the musical we meet Veronica pre-induction, giving us a glimpse of her humanity before she becomes a ‘Heather,’ lands her sociopathic BF J.D. (played here by Ryan McCartan), and things take a decidedly, er — dark turn. Without quite the wide-eyed innocence of a Cady Heron or Fern Mayo, this Veronica is just warm and fuzzy enough to sing about her teenage feelings with conviction.
When she and J.D. kill queen bee Heather Chandler accidentally-on purpose via lethal breakfast in bed, you can tell Veronica cares. But then again, Heather’s not down for long, rising up to join in as a ghost and bask in her post-mortem surge in popularity at school. Wynn is a dead ringer for the movie’s Kim Walker—eerily appropriate since she spends most of the show as a spirit.
You won’t have long to mourn bro-tastic duo Kurt Kelly (Evan Todd) and Ram Sweeney (Jon Edison) after their double homicide in the woods either — except of course in an utterly magical show-stopper called, yes, “My Dead Gay Son.” The two corn-fed jocks, whose favorite pastimes include lunchroom fistfights and date rape, also quickly rise from the dead — and in their underwear, no less.
For all its deliciously outrageous obscenity (did I mention the wonderful song about blue balls?), Heathers: The Musical also takes the psychological miseries of adolescence just seriously enough to fuse its camp with some necessary sensitivity. Resident punching bag Martha “Dumptruck” (a very fine Katie Ladner) gets a touching 11 o’clock number, and McLemore sings a moving song of her own as defector Heather McNamara.
Mounting a black comedy about teenage bullying, suicide, and gun death in school is obviously a very different undertaking than it was 25 years ago (yes, you’re old), but Heathers toes a fine line, balancing its bubblegum cynicism with genuine sympathy for every social strata of high school hell. Careful: You might just wind up feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Just blame it on the bright blue Draino cocktails served down the aisles during intermission.
Images via Chad Batka