Based on the 1988 film, Heathers: The Musical is a slick show about dark issues, including bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault and school violence. What makes this realisation of the rock musical such a success is the way that it leans into the irony built into Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s book. It does not shy from the sensitive topics and risqué aspects of the problematic text.
Social misfit Veronica Sawyer (Erika Naddei), a senior at fictional Westerberg High, is finally accepted by the powerful and ruthless Thunderdome clique of Heathers (played by Chelsea Sales, Josie Ross and Marguerite Du Plessis) that rule the school. That is until she falls into a toxic relationship with dangerously-sexy new loner J.D (Elliot Gough) and is manipulated. Directed by Kade O’Rourke, the music and lyrics pay tribute to school tropes with iconic lines from the cult film.
The soundtrack contains a diverse range of numbers from the satirical to the dramatic and the highly energetic, all set against a world of teen angst. There are no vocally weak links as each performer is given an opportunity to shine. AJ Betts elicits empathy as Martha Dunnstock, the Heathers’ main object of ridicule and Veronica’s best friend. The production is filled with strong performances, with nobody holding back, even in edgier scenes.
Naddei and Gough’s chemistry sees them effectively bounce off each other. Naddei, in particular, is faultless as the wry and clever heroine. Sales is formidable as the “mythic bitch” Heather Chandler and, of her minions, Du Plessis is wonderful as the naive and vulnerable head cheerleader Heather McNamara. Brandon Taylor-Cotton and Matt Domingo are convincing as entitled dumb jocks Ram and Kurt. Ian De Luna makes ensemble roles such as “preppy stud” memorable through entertaining animation.
All performers maintain their distinct characterisations. It is just unfortunate that they appear to have been let down by some microphone, spotlight and sound lapses in early sections and microphone levels that result in some overpowering and indistinct Heathers’ exclamations.
Perry Sanders’ lighting design is one of the most striking aspects of this production. There is plenty of colour work, with red, green and yellow spotlights highlighting the presence of each of the Heathers. The quick, contrasting lighting cues direct the audience to not only important narrative aspects, but their underlying themes. Lighting again only enhances the theme of celebration emphasised in the show’s encore.
The exaggerated stereotypes that characterise the campy romp are also emphasised by candy-coloured costumes (the costume, wig and makeup designer is Taylor Andrews). The most brilliant contribution to the show’s success, however, comes courtesy of Lauren Bensted’s lively choreography, filled with nuanced detail and recurring motifs.
Millennial Productions’ debut musical is visually captivating, colourful and dynamic from start to finish. If it had live orchestra accompaniment, it could easily take its place on the QPAC stage. Heathers: The Musical is showing at Ron Hurley Theatre until 10th April, 2022.
For more of Meredith Walker’s theatre reviews, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane.