“Heathers: The Musical” is dark and subversive

“Heathers: The Musical” is dark and subversive

As a rule, I am not a fan of transforming movies into stage musicals; I prefer original work, and feel the main impetus behind this is to garner audiences using name recognition – and while getting people into the theater is great, putting up a lazy performance to do so isn’t optimal. There are, however, exceptions, and Heathers: The Musical is one of them.

Based on the 1988 film starring Winona Rider, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty, Heathers: The Musical tells the story of Veronica Sawyer (Caralivia Levanti), a bookish, sarcastic, unpopular student who longs to be one of the Heathers: Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara and Heather Dean (Ashley Polidore, Carolyn Shields, Taylor Proctor), the three beautiful girls who rule the school. By showing off her forgery skills, Veronica is accepted into their clique, but soon realizes their cruelty is too much for her; however, Heather Chandler promises to ruin her if she tries to leave the group. Veronica turns to the new student, J.D. (Kent Benwell), who she’s been flirting with; the two start a relationship, but there’s a price – their relationship soon has a body count.

Justin Newkirk, who recently directed Spring Awakening at the theater, helms this production too; it’s clear he has a knack for casting and bringing them together as a team, as both casts truly seem to have so much fun working together. The ‘80s costumes are a kick – kudos to whoever found what looks to be an original Bush/Quayle t-shirt – but the styling issues with Levanti’s wig were a major distraction. Choreography, by Newkirk, Polidore and Beth VanEvery, is a lot of fun – peppy, bright and crisp.

Levanti is a strong choice for Veronica – she has a huge voice and uses it to her advantage here. There are a few times when she’s facing upstage and lines or lyrics are lost, and she rushes intermittently when time should be taken to let the import of her words sink in, but as a whole she’s very effective. Benwell is a very nice J.D., and anyone who’s seen the movie will be surprised by this – the script itself seems to have J.D. be much more sympathetic than in the movie (the ending, for example, is completely different than the movie), and Benwell’s nice-guy look is hard to overcome. His voice, however, is, as always, fantastic, and to my enjoyment, he shows more emotion in this show than in others he’s done. Polidore was a dark Heather Chandler, all malice and creepy, glowering eyes, and it absolutely worked – it’s the change I liked the most from the movie. She’s almost supernatural in her wickedness, and it’s delightful.

The show needs to be taken as it was intended – a dark, subversive piece – because if you take it too literally, the things you can be offended by (glorifying suicide, attempted rape, murder, bullying, homophobia) will make it hard to enjoy what you’re seeing. Go in expecting dark humor and have fun with it – because there is plenty to have fun with here.

“Heathers: The Musical”; Colonial Little Theatre, 1 Colonial Court, Johnstown; through August 12; $15; Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 762-4325;

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