Heather Chandler: “…God, Veronica. My afterlife is so boring. If I have to sing Kumbaya one more time.”
“Heathers The Musical,” the Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy rock musical, which ran off-Broadway for a few months in 2014, is like the love child of “Grease” and “Sweeney Todd” — a delirious, tone-shifting roller coaster that accelerates from peppy and vulgar high school hijinks, to murder and suicide. But this high-energy production, directed expertly by James R. Taulli, is also a carnival of delights. It’s curious how anarchy and mayhem works so well as a musical. The show is in its second weekend at Cal State Fullerton, playing April 19th through May 5th in the Young Theatre on campus.
Based on the late-80’s teen cult film by the same name, “Heathers…” is a high-energy black comedy—a show that opens conversations about dark issues, including bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault and violence in schools in one of the most scathing indictments of high-school groupthink ever made. It’s the darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful, teenage misfit entering her senior year, who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: The Heathers.
It seems Veronica’s superpower is her ability to imitate others’ handwriting (forging hall passes and the like), and when the Heathers discover that, they decide to make her over and let her join them in the rarefied upper echelon of school society. She dumps her tubby friend Martha, and starts taking orders from the three queen bees.
But before she can get comfortable atop the high school food chain, Veronica falls in love with the dangerously sexy new kid “J.D.,” a Baudelaire-quoting bad boy new to the school whose troubled past and mannered indifference makes him irresistible to her, though in these post-Columbine times, a trench coat-wearing high school antihero seems a bit unsettling.
When Heather Chandler, the Almighty, kicks her out of the group, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and kiss Heather’s aerobicized derriere...but J.D. has another plan for that bullet. Before long, he has figured a way to get Veronica out of the Heathers’ control. Teenagers start dying, but J.D. uses Veronica’s writing skill to make the deaths look like suicide instead of murder:
Despite post-coital bliss, Veronica is angry at Heather after their falling out—Heather calls her “a Girl Scout cookie,” among other things—so Veronica remarks to JD that she wants her dead. The problem is that JD is an atypical misanthrope, so when they’re joking in the kitchen about how to get Heather to vomit from a hangover cure, JD playfully suggests a dose of drain cleaner, while pouring it into a glass. Veronica instead concocts a cocktail of orange juice and milk, but then grabs the wrong glass to give her, a mistake that JD does not bother to point out. The mixture kills Heather, and Veronica and JD, in a state of panic, fake a suicide note. All of a sudden, suicide becomes the latest high school fad.
O’Keefe and Murphy hew pretty faithfully to Daniel Waters’ original screenplay, featuring the poisonous Heathers trinity (Lauren Louis as ringleader Heather Chandler, Beth Roy as Heather McNamara and Carly McLaurin as Heather Duke). And their songs are glorious, ranging from the hilarious—“Candy Store,” “Big Fun” and “You’re Welcome,”—to the poignant, “The Me Inside of Me,” “Seventeen,” and “Dead Girl Walking.” The campy “My Dead Gay Son” is done in a rousing church revival style as the formerly homophobic fathers (Jack O’Leary and Gabriel Manley) of the two dead football players, Ram and Kurt, embrace the idea of their sons’ “secret,” as well as admitting to their own latent feelings for one another. Ram’s Dad also plays Big Bun Dean and Coach Ripper; Kurt’s Dad also plays Veronica’s Dad and Gowan.
The vocals are expressly terrific, starting with the amazingly versatile Amanda Neiman as Veronica. Ms. Neiman seems able to do absolutely anything with her voice. Her “Fight for Me” was exceptional! The gifted Ms. Louis is impressively melodic too, especially in “Veronica’s Chandler Nightmare.”