UA Theatre’s colorful, captivating take on “Heathers: The Musical” is not for the faint of heart, but those who can handle the twisted humor and disturbing plot will enjoy beautiful singing, skillful acting and excellent choreography.
“Heathers: The Musical” is Laurence O’Keefe’s and Kevin Murphy’s theatrical adaptation of the classic 1988 film. The musical, like the film, tells the story of two high school lovers who get caught in a violent downward spiral after taking revenge on their school’s cruel popular kids.
The dark satirical work is packed with both black humor and heartfelt high school idealism. The show’s themes include bullying, eating disorders, sexual assault, suicide, murder and school violence, but also love, friendship, redemption and self-acceptance.
“Heathers: The Musical” has one of my favorite soundtracks of all time, and the UA Theatre production certainly did it justice. In particular, Claire Fossey, a senior playing the starring role of Veronica Sawyer, took command of the whole theater during her musical numbers. With her strong, soaring vocals, Fossey belted out stunner after stunner, starting with opening number “Beautiful” and ending with “Seventeen.”
I especially loved Fossey’s performances of “Dead Girl Walking” and “Our Love Is God.” These two very different songs really showcased the range of Fossey’s vocal abilities, from powerful and aggressive to tender and controlled. With great acting skills to boot, Fossey makes a perfect Veronica.
Grace Taylor, a first-year acting graduate student, was also excellent as hypersexualized, queen bee mean girl Heather Chandler. Taylor successfully brought Chandler’s signature snark, sultriness and utter cruelty to the role, and she stole the show with her solos in “Candy Store” and “The Me Inside of Me.”
Some of the weakest musical performances came from Bethany Kasper, Austin Lenaburg and Anna Knight, all seniors. However, they were great actors, giving convincing performances as stuck-up, self-centered Heather Duke, frighteningly disturbed Jason Dean, and kind-hearted, idealistic Martha Dunnstock. The actors were all very enjoyable to watch and complemented the two starring actresses well.
The production’s scenic design was also beautifully done. The show’s one backdrop, a huge, colorful, psychedelic collage of pop culture images such as the MTV logo, David Bowie and the Ghostbusters symbol, was perfect for a show set in 1989. Props to scenic designer Austin Aschbrenner for making a set that could have been distracting and hard to look at blend seamlessly into the show.
Lighting designer Kathleen Holmes’s colorful, jarring lighting work added further impact to the scenic design and worked well to move the action of the show along and set the ambiance for many very different scenes.
While I adored the acting and singing, my favorite part of UA Theatre’s “Heathers” was probably the choreography. Choreographers Michelle LeBlanc and Claire Fossey (yes, she did double duty in this production) designed some incredibly intricate and entertaining dance numbers to perfectly accompany the show’s delightful soundtrack.
I especially loved the numbers in which the whole cast performed coordinated slow-motion and freeze-frame style moves during a character’s solo. It takes a lot of skill to get such a large cast to move so in sync, and the effect it created was very captivating.
Although not a family-friendly show by any means, everyone who can stomach the disturbing themes and dark comedy of “Heathers: The Musical,” should make the effort to see it. UA Theatre has done amazing work once again and crafted a show that will appeal to cult film lovers, musical theater geeks, ‘80s fanatics and anyone else who is looking for a rollicking good time.
“Heathers: The Musical” runs through March 15 at the University Theatre in the Fine Arts Center. Student tickets are $5.