Heathers: The Musical

Heathers: The Musical. How very.

Heathers The Musical. Image by Kurt Sneddon
Heathers the Musical. Image by Kurt Sneddon

Before there was Mean Girls, there was Heathers, the iconic high school movie from the 80s starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. And now there’s Heathers: The Musical which made its Queensland debut at QPAC over the weekend, under the direction of music theatre and cabaret star Trevor Ashley.

Bold, crass and unapologetic, with rock-pop songs devoted to blue balls, slurpee brain freeze, and lines like “I’m hot and pissed and on the pill”, this is a musical you have to go hard or go home (pardon the pun). The show was in good hands with Ashley’s audacious production, milking every dick joke (with associated choreography) possible.

Chain saws and sexual gratification aside, this part-revenge, part-morality, part super-purile fun, quirky, dark, and twisted musical really takes you by surprise, especially in the second act. What lies beneath the seemingly superficial layer of lip-gloss and jockstraps, lays a serious undertone of teen angst, peer group pressure, bullying and suicide. Ashley did a super-fab job balancing the comedy and party atmosphere with the black comedy to explore the darker themes while not getting too morbid or melancholy.

The movie was deftly adapted for the musical stage by Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O’Keefe, whose previous adaptation of Legally Blonde proved he was the right man for the job.

Just a quick recap in case you can’t remember the movie (or were still in the womb), the story is set at Westerberg High, Ohio, and follows the nerdy 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer who gets a makeover in exchange for forged notes and crawls up the social ladder into the cool girl clique called ‘The Heathers’. Blowing off her childhood best friend Martha “Dumptruck” for the queen bees (Heather, Heather, and Heather), Veronica’s teenage hormones take over when she meets J.D., the broody ‘deeply damaged’ mysterious new guy with a god complex, and this is where it all goes to hell in a handbag.

With killer performances by the entire cast a few notable stand-outs include Kirby Burgess’ pencil-skirt sharp performance as Heather Chandler ‘the demon queen of high school’. Burgess is perfectly cast in this gift of a role.

The wanna-bee Heather McNamara played by Erin Clare had a beautiful moment in the spotlight with ‘Lifeboat’, as did Lauren McKenna as Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock in her unrequited love song ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’. McKenna also played the hilarious double-role of the hippy-dippy teacher/counsellor Ms. Fleming.

Libby Asciak as the third Heather – Heather Duke – plays the fall-gal well but really hits her stride when she dons the crowning red scrunchie. Stephen Madsen as J.D. is totally dreamy but took a little convincing as the broody rebel at first, as he just seemed to come across a little less cool and guarded than he’s supposed to be. So it came as an even bigger surprise later in the show when he reached depths dark as the dirt six feet under.

But of course, a standing ovation was given for Jaz Flowers who embodies Veronica Sawyer with the right hormonal balance of teen angst, lust, and smart arse dry wit, all wrapped up in a voice that cuts above it all.

The show gave a firm head-banging nod to the 80s with Cameron Mitchell’s snappy choreography, Angela White’s costume design, complete with shoulder pads, 80s frizzed up hair and a extraordinarily cool unicorn jumper, (which should be on the merchandise stand).

Emma Vine’s set design made great use of a set of school lockers which spun in, out, and around for various scenes in the school and home, and even cleverly transformed into coffins for a funeral scene – ingenious.

The tight orchestrations under MD Bev Kennedy, boomed out over the audience, totally enveloping us in the high-school party atmosphere. However, this was occasionally at the expense of hearing and understanding the lyrics.

Overall, a fabulous night out at the theatre that is both super-fun and unassumingly deep. Heathers: The Musical is playing now at the QPAC Playhouse till 17 January.

Warning: The show contains explicit language and sex themes. Definitely not one to bring the kiddies along to.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is AussieTheatre.com's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

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