Review: "Heathers" with the Red Branch Theatre Company
OnStage Washington DC Critic
Some movie to musical adaptations are obvious, the film’s plot and characters lend themselves to the musical stage. School of Rock, Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots, and others all had fun characters and an overall happy vibe that then translated to the stage later on. Now if I had told you that the 1988 Daniel Water’s film about a young popular high school girl who goes on an “accidental” killing spree with her psychotic boyfriendwhich ends in an attempt to blow up the entire schoolwould become a hit musical, you’d probably say “that sounds horrible”. Well you’d be wrong. Somehow, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy managed to create a masterpiece out of Water’s film that keeps the same “dark-comedy” vibe, while adding some much needed depth and observance to these characters.
Heathers follows the lives of the students at Westerburg High School as they go through the typical school events, kind of. The School is run by the “Heathers”, three girls named Heather who float on air above everyone else. One day the Heathers agree to allow Veronica Sawyer to join their group, where she quickly realizes this glamorous life isn’t easy to maintain. Conflict arises when Veronica meets JD, a damaged, young heartthrob with homicidal tendencies. Not before long several students have “committed suicide” but Veronica and the audience knows the truth. The show actually has a very deep outlook on pain, internal conflict, and society as a whole. I love Heathers, so I was hoping for a great show and The Red Branch Theatre Company delivered! I left the show feeling very satisfied and I would definitely see it again. The main things that made this show a success were the actors, the diversity, the fearless direction, and the lights.
Taking the helm of this production was Vivian Cook, playing Veronica. Cook had an extremely believable performance, I believed her as the high school nerd and I believed her as the “queen bee”. Cook showed off great tenderness and vulnerability throughout this production, she showed fear, confliction, doubt, love, and acceptance throughout this show and her vocals were spot-on while doing it. The Heathers were all also standouts in this production, played by Tiara Whaley (Chandler), Megan Bunn (Duke), and Geocel Batista (McNamara). They all played their parts well and the audience loved to hate them, which is the goal of the Heathers. Early in the production, Bunn seemed a little uncomfortable with the choreography and the staging but as the show went on and she took on a more leading role in the story, she got much better, becoming the most memorable of the three. Tendo Nsubuga andTaylor Witt also gave great performances as Ram and Kurt, the school’s stereotypical, dumb Jocks. They provided excellent comedic relief throughout the night, and got the biggest laughs of the production, hands down. I respect anyone who can take on a role like Martha Dunnstock and Amy Williamson surly delivered. Being in a role where your appearance is the brunt of the other character’s jokes and cruelty is not easy, believe me, and she did great throughout the show. The true star of the show, in this case wasHasani Allen as JD.Allen left it all on the stage, focusing more on the damaged side of the character rather than the psychotic side. He the audience in tears multiple times throughout and made us really question the ethics of his character. How wrong or right is JD?
As I’ve stated in reviews prior, I love seeing diversity on stage more than anything. This production definitely gave it to me, it had diversity in every aspect. It had racial diversity, it had body diversity and it had age diversity. It’s always a refreshing thing to see the more adult characters being played by actual adults. The most impressive bit of diversity to me was the leading couple of the show was an interracial couple. Now, I’m sure the people reading this may think “There have always been interracial couples, why is that a big deal?” and they’d be right, interracial couples are a normal, everyday thing. However, as someone who has been in over 20 productions and seen countless others, I’ve never been in/seen a production with an interracial couple where the script didn’t specifically call for it. Many casting directors don’t put different races together in romantic roles, they typically match race with race and call it diversity. It was unbelievably refreshing to see it all play out on stage, knowing that love isn’t race exclusive and that more shows need to have couples like this.
If you know anything about Heathers, movie or musical, then you know it’s inappropriate for younger audiences. It covers many adult themes and has wild acts of violence. All that being said, it is an important piece of art that shouldn’t be censored and Director Amelia Acosta Powell did not censor a thing. All the inappropriate jokes were played to affect and all the themes were shown in full light and the sensual scenes were realistic. It’s a refreshing change to see a show that didn’t tone down its content, trying not to upset anyone. So often jokes or scenes are taken out of productions because the director doesn’t want to be offensive, Powell, thankfully was not one of those directors. Everything was in that should be in and if it made you uncomfortable then so be it. It was absolutely fearless direction and it resulted in a great show. I hope she is setting the tone for productions to come, not being an exception. She also directed a truly great ensemble, with standouts Allie O’Donnell, Lindsay Hopkins, and James Tarrant.
Tech was great for this show but the lights specifically were the hero. They set the tone of the scenes, they helped give us that rocking 80’s vibe and they gave us a sense of setting in such a small performance space. The Lighting Designer, Lynn Joslin really did great work. The sound didn’t have any hiccups per say but the music track was over powering the actors throughout the majority of the show, making it a bit distracting. Costumes were excellent, due to Cierra Coan. The Choreography was used in moderation and very affective when used, kudos to Brandon Glass for that. The Vocals were flawless as far as I could tell, thanks to Music Director John Henderson.
This show was, without a doubt, a huge success. It’s fun, heartbreaking, inquisitive and just plain entertaining. It was absolutely worth the overnight trip! I highly recommend it to all theatre lovers but specifically the young adults who love rock musicals. This show is up at the Red Branch Theatre Company’s performance space in Columbia MD for two more weekends. Tickets can be found here: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=61063. There are also discounted “Rush Tickets” available on the app “TodayTix”. Do yourself a favor and see Heathers! I guarantee Big Fun!