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Bust out the teased hair and neon shoes
EPAC presents ‘Heathers: the Musical’
The year was 1988. Radio stations pumped out Enya, Robert Palmer, and Kylie Minogue. The eldest Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the Presidential election. Movie tickets averaged $3.50 … and “Heathers” hit the big screen.
In a year that gave us “Bull Durham,” “Rain Man,” and even “Coming to America,” “Heathers” stood out as that quintessential coming of age film many of us rested our teenage hats upon. I was 15. Watching the trailer now I realize how cheesy that movie was. But, it’s a cult classic. Starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty, it embodied the ‘80s. Those days of the neon past flooded back to me on Thursday, Oct. 20, as EPAC premiered “Heathers: the Musical” to a packed and exuberant house.
We meet the Heathers in a series of seriously good opening numbers (“Beautiful” and “Candy Store”), which set up the entire story in mere minutes. Heather McNamara (Corina Raine Connelly) is the cheerleader, and probably the nicest of the clique. Heather Duke (Meghan O’Neill) is the bulimic yearbook editor. Heather Chandler (Maggie Shevlin) is the leader of the clique, and reigns supreme over all things cool and popular at Westerburg High School.
Into their tangled web of gossip and popularity falls Veronica Sawyer (Martha Marie Wasser), who abandons her long-time friend Martha Dunnstock (Emily Rhinehart), setting her up for humiliation with her long time crush Ram Sweeney (Brian Viera). Linebacker Sweeney and quarterback Kurt Kelly (Drew Boardman) represent the jocks of Westerburg; their mind is on one track — sex.
After being semi-accepted by the Heathers, Veronica falls for the new kid, J.D. (Michael Roman). Initially revealing his intellectual side, J.D. ultimately turns out to be a bit of a psychopath. He draws Veronica into a series of fatalities, starting with Heather Chandler. With the head Heather gone, Heather Duke steps into the role of regulator of all things popular at school. She becomes just as nasty as her predecessor and turns on Veronica, who by now has had her fill of the popularity game. She may be in too deep.
J.D. sets his sights on the jocks, who, at the word of Duke, become willing participants in a sexual rumor with Veronica. Shooting the two boys in the local graveyard, J.D. stages their death as a suicidal act of passion (“My Dead Gay Son”). Two numbers into the second act, things become quite solemn. Like many theater musicals, this show starts out a laugh a minute and then slowly delves into seriousness. It tackles the topics of gun violence, bullying, and most notably suicide (“Shine a Light” and “Lifeboat”).
Ultimately, Veronica has enough of J.D. and breaks up with him. In return he plots to blow up the entire school — his father (Kevin Fisher) is a demolitions expert. Veronica foils his plot and in the melee J.D. takes a bullet to the stomach. Veronica escapes virtually unscathed and returns to the school declaring the end of all ridicule and unhappiness. The final scene shows Veronica and Martha (who had been ridiculed and called “Dump Truck” due to her size) reconnect as friends.
“Heathers the Musical” is a tale some of us know all too well. While laughter can be the best medicine we know, especially now in the 21st century, words of hate and jealous reactions can have far reaching consequences. It is something we should all be cognizant of and this show reminds us of that fact. We are all people, with our own special set of traits, and the Heathers of the world will always pry on what they perceive as weakness. Don’t be weak. Be proud.
Now to get off the soapbox. The raucous crowd at EPAC on opening night thoroughly enjoyed the show. It makes sex absurd, but then again, wasn’t it in high school? As serious as this show is, it is equally hilarious. Viera and Boardman have a bond on stage so strong it is easy to believe they have always been teammates and best friends. If it is not easy to laugh with Heather Chandler, it is easy enough to laugh at her; Shevlin is masterful in her portrayal of the queen of popularity (and eventual ghost). Roman, who starts the show with a muted part, grows seriously dark after a scene in which he acts out and shoots a television. (Note: the show uses real blanks and they are loud!) I suspect he will only further develop this character as the show runs at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre until Nov. 5. My hats off to Rhinehart, who hides behind a lack of eye contact most of the show only to awaken with a majestic voice in “Kindergarten Boyfriend.” Speaking of eyes, I was amazed by Connelly’s ability to hold a far off stare; the look led me into both the shallows and depths of her character.
On this simple stage, Director Edward Fernandez brings a lot of complex characters to their zenith level. “Heathers: the Musical” is zany, terrifying, and an absolute treasure of entertainment. I would be remiss if I did not recognize the efforts of Lawrence Love who choreographed the show. The dance numbers, especially “Candy Store,” were sexy when they needed to be and told the tale almost as well as the show’s words. The freeze frame effects and slow motion scenarios were an absolute joy to behold.
It’s no longer the world I knew when I was 15, but for a couple hours at EPAC it was the ‘80s all over again.
Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at email@example.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.