Heathers the Musical is a show that I couldn’t help but find myself in hysterics watching…
BUT it was for the most part a fairly dark show…
I have my doubts that thirty years from now this will be considered a classic stage musical…
BUT this didn’t stop people from giving it a similar standing ovation treatment to Les Miserables…
The Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) is offering a range of shows as part of their SummerSet series this month, primarily targeted at school-age children on holidays and their families. Although not explicitly part of this series, there is at least one new and fresh option for adults who are looking to have a fun night out at the theatre WITHOUT the kids. This show is Heathers the Musical, a stage musical adaptation of the 1988 black comedy Heathers. It is now playing in the Playhouse Theatre every evening until January 17th.
Offering explicit language, some serious topics and not-so-vague sexual references on display, this is not a show for those easily offended. Instead, it takes a similar approach to the Rocky Horror Show, where they have chosen not to downplay some of the more adult and controversial themes in order to cater towards a wider audience. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but in my opinion the end result was something highly hysterical, well written and sets itself apart from the plethora of other great stage musicals released at QPAC over the last year.
For those unfamiliar with this show’s storyline or source film, Heathers the Musical takes place at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio. As a sort of cliche school, its students are broken up into various cliques, from the nerdier students who get pushed around to the jocks. But among these groups, none are as more prominent as the “Heathers” – named after its members (Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara and Heather Duke). Aspiring to be considered more than a nerd and rise up among the school’s social hierarchy, 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer manages to use her forgery skills to befriend the Heathers and join their gang. But unable to compromise on all her values, this social shift causes more than a little chaos for her – especially when she meets and begins falling for the “cool guy in a coat” Jason “J.D.” Dean.
Retaining its roots as a black comedy rather than a standard comedy, Heathers the Musical touches upon a variety of serious topics including teen suicide, date rape, bullying, homophobia and more. Ultimately mileage can vary person to person, and there isn’t necessary one fine line which determines if someone will get a good chuckle out of something or be left feeling uncomfortable. Some things didn’t work with me or simply felt pointless, but for the most part the show’s plot worked quite well. While the story managed to frequently draw laughs from the crowd, on several occasions they also presented a heartwarming moment or positive message based around these topics.
The major highlight of Heathers the Musical was easily its range of songs, from the softer, beautiful and slightly quirky “Kindergarten Boyfriend” performed by Martha Dunnstock (Portrayed by Lauren McKenna) to “My Dead Gay Son” which had the crowd roaring with laughter while promoting tolerance, despite what happened on-stage shortly before. With impactful songs such as “Fight for Me” and “Candy Store” and more emotional songs including “Dead Girl Walking” and “Seventeen” added to the mix, Heathers the Musical had a lot to offer audiences in its repertoire of songs.
After performing at Hayes Theatre in Sydney last year, most of the original Australian cast returned in their roles during the Brisbane premiere season. One major change however was Kirby Burgess taking over the role of Heather Chandler. Having previously performed in the more dance-intensive role of Baby during the Australia-wide tour of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, it was great to finally get to hear her sing and take on a completely different role than before. She nailed the role of being a mythic bitch, with a powerful singing voice to match. Also shining on stage was returning actor Jaz Flowers, who managed to tick all the boxes in her role as lead character Veronica Sawyer. The other cast members overall also performed well, with special mentions going to Stephen Madsen as J.D., Lauren McKenna as Martha and both Vincent Hooper and Jakob Ambrose as the “jocks” Ram and Kurt.
Having portrayed Monsieur Thénardier in the most recent Australian tour of Les Miserables and doing an authentic impression of Liza Minnelli during his stage show ‘Liza (on an E)’, Heathers the Musical marks Trevor Ashley’s directional debut. His Australian production of this show has proven to be fantastic, and I do look forward to seeing what he has to offer Aussie audiences next.
Overall, while not for younger audiences or those who are easily offended, Heathers the Musical offers a fantastic night out at the theatre which is so “very”. Among the 80s settings and mannerisms, explicit language and more than a few sexual references; viewers are treated to fantastic acting from a mostly younger cast, memorable songs and many opportunities to laugh at the barrage of entertaining / surprising events which unfold on-stage. If you have an evening spare, Heathers the Musical would be my top pick for entertainment this weekend.
Tickets to Heathers the Musical were provided by QPAC for the purpose of this review.
Tickets to Heathers the Musical
Heathers the Musical is running every evening until Sunday 17 January 2016. One evening session per day is being run, with tickets available for $49.90 – $89.90 depending on seating preference. You can book tickets online or by contacting the QPAC box office.