Review: 'Heathers' at Cappuccino Musical Theatre

Vicki Trask 

  • OnStage Calgary Critic

September 1st, 1989

Heathers the Musical presented by Cappuccino Theatre is the definition of a hit and miss show.

So what’s the damage?

Well, on Saturday June 11th 2016, I attended the cult classic at Vertigo Theatre with mixed emotions. Though I’m still fairly new to this musical, I am in desperate love with the show penned by Legally Blonde: The Musical creators Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy. The music is unforgettable, the story is timeless and shameless; how can you not fall head over heels? 

The show centers around Veronica Sawyer, a high school senior, just trying to make it to the end of the year with her best friend Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock. That is, until she meets the mysterious Jason Dean (JD for short) and ends up amongst the high school royalty of “the Heathers”. This somehow leads her to kill three of her classmates and watch her high school crumble into unexpected chaos, all underscored by catchy, and poignant music. This fantastic dark comedy has so many universal themes and translates so creatively to the stage.

Cappuccino Theatre presents Heathers The Musical starring, from left, Jamie Robinson, Eden Hildebrand, Chelsea Millard and Tanis Laatsch. Photo: CALGARY HERALD

Cappuccino Theatre presents Heathers The Musical starring, from left, Jamie Robinson, Eden Hildebrand, Chelsea Millard and Tanis Laatsch. Photo: CALGARY HERALD

However, this particular production had me a little weary. The actors playing seventeen year old high school students were…not seventeen year old high school students. While that’s not normally a major problem in a production, this show is so centered around the selfish, angsty, judgmental teenage life, I worried it wouldn’t land with audiences. 

I’ll eat a few slices of humble pie. There were some very honest and moving performances and then there were some not so convincing moments.

Our leading actress, Chelsea Millard is the perfect example of this hit and miss concept. She is a strong singer but as soon as a song or a phrase was out of her range, I could see her lose a bit of her power as Veronica. She was very stiff and it didn’t suit the words she was saying. Veronica carries a lot of the show and Chelsea wasn’t always present in the scene which killed me because when she found those little moments they were (forgive the pun): Beautiful. 

As for her leading man, I have to tip my hat to Bryan Smith. I wasn’t convinced of his Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can by Front Row Centre Players back in March 2016) but his JD was chilling, terrifying, and yet still endearing. When he worships her, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. My compliments to Bryan Smith. 

The Heathers: Chandler (Eden Hildebrand), McNamara (Tanis Laatsch), and Duke (Jamie Robinson) are all actresses I’ve seen on stage one hundred times and these leading ladies always deliver incredible performances. I wasn’t shocked in the least to see them own the stage with every well placed heel – especially in Candy Store, not an easy number. My undying admiration goes to Tanis Laatsch. “Lifeboat” is a powerful number and she did it justice; the audience held their breath for her. 

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Forrest Tymchuk and Johann Wentzel – playing Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly respectively – who brought a lot of energy and skin to their performances of the dumb and dumber jock. Those boys were always on and I admit there was always something to laugh about with these two. Congratulations.

Which brings me to Martha Dunnstock played by Mandee Marcil. This role is not large, but it’s so important and Mandee blew me away. I knew she could sing and act like nobody’s business but she was transformed as the love struck best friend who lives her days in the bully circle. Thank you, Mandee, for sharing this character with the audience. 

Of course these actors were fantastically directed by the incomparable Carl Bishop, musically directed by the ever fabulous Danielle Wahl, and choreographed by the stunningly talented Danielle Desmarais – a powerhouse team who brought this monster of a show to life, accompanied by their incredible design and production team. The set design was so clever and so well executed. I couldn’t describe it, even if I wanted to; you have to see it for yourself. 

The only thing that stunted my enjoyment of the show was the show itself. The balance between band and vocals was off, there was a stilted energy whenever dancing started, dead air during set changes kills any mood. These are things that happen on a show to show basis that can let it fall into the ranks of “potentially amazing.” Right now, I’m feeling: so very…meh. 

There were a lot of amazing things and then a lot of things that didn’t quite reach for me. This is a show that speaks to so many generations despite its very specific dating. It’s about youth: the desperation that comes with needing to walk through hell to get to graduation day; the consequences of standing up for yourself without thinking about the future. What it means to destroy instead of create when the world turns to shit. Sometimes the message can be lost in the wordy texts and big dance numbers but I expect great things from Cappuccino and they reached it in some ways but not in others.

You can still get tickets for Heathers the Musical which is running from June 4th to June 18th in the Studio at Vertigo Theatre. Who knows? It could be Beautiful.