Heathers is the holy grail of teen-angst comedies. It’s dark, funny, endlessly quotable, and more on point than any other film of its kind (sorry Mean Girls). Filmed at the rise, and possible height, of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater’s Hollywood moments, director Michael Lehmann couldn’t have chosen two more perfect people for his stars. Collectively, they delivered a movie unlike anything created before or since. Writer Daniel Waters gave lines for days, ones that live on twenty-one years after the film’s release. He created a perfect, mirrored world where good intentions go to hell and motives are ambiguous at best, devious at worst. Needless to say, Heathers is an untouchable cinematic icon.
Like all beloved cult films, there’s always someone out there who wants to remake the story with their own hands. Sometimes these notions come in the form of a musical. Inspired, retooled, these films make their way to Broadway, both on and off, and incorporate songs and dances that sometimes add to the beloved experience – Young Frankenstein, Hairspray, and Evil Dead comes to mind. Other times, like with Re-Animator or Grey Gardens, the experience is fun, but ultimately unnecessary. Heathers The Musical falls somewhere in between.
The production is, above all, a fun experience. It’s bubbly, candy-colored, and sweet. Yes, I said this version of Heathers is sweet. This is not the biting satire you remember. And while I had a great time with it as it exploded in front of me, it did have some glaring flaws that I couldn’t get past. The writing is good, serviceable, and the cast is, for the most part, an excellent mix of talent. The songs are enjoyable, if not forgettable, and some of them even hit a soft spot in the heart. Of course, you’re not going to this show to have your life changed, you’re going to have a good time, and believe me, you will.
This review will be somewhat spoiler free, but this version does take some liberties and rewrites some key elements of the story.
While Veronica’s characterization is somewhat forgivable, J.D.’s is not. This character is supposed to be the catalyst of change, good and bad, and the dark matter that binds them all. In the musical, he’s reduced to a stereotypical, dweeby loner instead of the brooding stranger. Ryan McCartan as J.D. is also perhaps miscast. He has an excellent voice, but perhaps not the psychotic depth to play a character like J.D. It doesn’t help that this character is underwritten, but McCartan could’ve chosen to bring some swagger to the role. He’s void of any of the pseudo sociopathic charm that brought him to life in the film, and all of it ultimately goes flat and becomes this musical’s biggest crime.
Heather Chandler is decent in this version, but there’s something a little too snotty about her, though it could’ve been the actress. An understudy played Heather Chandler, usually played by Jessica Keenan Wynn, so we may’ve not gotten the Heathers The Musical vision that was intended. I might’ve had a completely different experience had this character been better. She’s not as calculating and “queen bitch” as this villain so needs to be. Here, she’s shrill and demanding, and not actually worthy of murdering, but that’s not entirely her fault. Sure, she’s a pain in the ass, but what makes her truly evil at Westerberg? She’s simply just another rich bitch.
Elle McLemore’s Heather McNamara gets her own song and is cute, but she’s more victim that bitch, and isn’t given much depth beyond her solo.
The Heather who steals the show is Heather Duke. She nails that royal cunt attitude and it only makes you want to see more. Her character not only steals the Heather Number One spot, she rips the entire Heathers story for herself. Alice Lee better go on to a big career or the stage gods truly suck.
Here’s what’s most surprising: Along with Heather Duke, Kurt, Ram, and Martha Dunstock almost totally steal the show. I couldn’t wait for them to show back up every time they left the stage. Kurt and Ram are perfectly dopey and douchey, and together, hilarious – a much needed air of refreshing comedy. Martha’s character is heartbreaking and heartfelt, and in some ways I wanted the entire story to belong to her and her love for Ram.
“Seventeen” is probably the best song, and I absolutely loved it. I wanted this version of Heathers to be everything this song is – sweet, sad, heartfelt, and a moment that works on every level for Veronica and J.D. “Freeze Your Brian” is also fun, if not stupid, and one of the rare moments I think J.D. is allowed to truly shine (other than that sex scene. Go boy.).
“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw. What do I look like, Mother Theresa?”