Heathers The Musical @ Pioneer Theatre

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (reviewed 22 October).

Hot Diggity Damn! Heathers The Musical presented by Blackout Theatre Company conjured up some pretty spicy memories of being bullied at school! As a shy nerdy kid I remember it all: the bitchy girl gang, the gross and immature boys, the constant name calling and humiliating pranks, and (shamefully) avoiding even nerdier kids than me. Heathers has all the unhappy childhood trauma packaged in a glossy musical production jam packed with jaw dropping moments from start to finish.

Heather The Musical is a cult-classic based on the film written by Daniel Waters with the book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe.

Our heroine is Veronica Sawyer, a bully victim with a penchant for forgery who falls in love with a strange and mysterious emo kid, Jason “JD” Dean. Together, they are going to fight the school bullies one at a time, starting with Heather Chandler, pack leader of the enviable Heather-gang made up of girls named Heather. When Heather Chandler is bumped off, Heather Duke takes over, with Heather McNamara as her subordinate. But while Chandler was able to keep her panting admirers on a leash, including immature imbeciles Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, Duke is a little out of her league, and puts Veronica in a precarious date-rape situation to avoid getting raped herself. Veronica escapes and plans a revenge on her attackers, but it goes horribly wrong when JD reveals an even darker and more unhinged side of his personality. With blood on her hands and a poisoned conscience, Veronica tries to break up with JD, but discovers her moral integrity comes at a very high price.

This macabre story of teenage angst speaks to several contemporary themes: the desire to fit in, the glorification of teenage suicide, the rise of mass shootings in US schools, the sensationalist media coverage and the celebrification of victims led by moral crusaders / influencers all jostling to find a sense of identity and purpose. Trauma-bonding and its toxic consequences is also heavily explored.

Director Jordan Anderson praised the cast for “pouring their hearts and souls” into this production; there is also extreme insight and intelligence that gives this musical the edge. Every character we see has shades of light and dark which makes this noir theme extremely fascinating.

Jenna Woolley as Veronica Sawyer is a kick-arse heroine, belting out incredible tunes professing her love and confusion over a boy who thrills her with his poetic hotness but also has an extremely toxic side. Woolley gives us a passionate, conflicted character who we are fully invested in even when she commits the ultimate crime of murder.

Aleks Justin as Veronica’s lover, JD, had us hooked right from the very beginning, utterly convincing he us he is a good guy who is just a little misunderstood. The freeze-framed fight scene was literally a show-stopping moment and had the audience in rapturous applause. Wow. My heart (and ovaries) definitely felt that.

Caitlyn Bateman as Martha Dunnstock is such a sweetheart as Veronica’s one true friend. We loathe to use words like “dowdy” because she isn’t – she’s marvellous and loyal and the one friend we should all have. I particularly adored Bateman’s solo number that came from a very pure place, without affectation.

Tim Drummond as Ram Sweeney and Will Smith as Kurt Kelly reminded me of the boys I went to school with, so disgusting and immature! I must admit, the plot to humiliate them publicly brought a little smug satisfaction of revenge, but then their sudden horrific deaths left me conflicted. When a musical makes you ponder the fate of despicable characters through the forces of karma, it really hits a nerve!

Equally confronting is Katie Staddon as gang leader Heather Chandler. Staddon is believable as the bossy girl-bitch-who-is-so-beautiful-and-she-knows-it, and will compulsively live rent-free in your head as long as you live. That dour expression, the way she holds herself, all makes her character extremely intimidating and captivating all at once. I loved and hated her at the same time.

Claire Hutchison and Haley McCudden expertly play the two other Heathers who are also extremely beautiful, but weak in comparison. Hutchison plays wanna-be copycat Heather with a vulnerable side (she has bulimia) but, like her predecessor, has no moral objection to getting up to mischief. McCudden gives us Barbie-blonde Heather who can’t function on her own after Chandler’s demise fragments the Heather gang. McCudden’s solo number (Lifeboat) was my absolute favourite on the night, a poetic allegory of being a ship lost on a stormy sea. I honestly did not expect to warm up to her character, so it surprised me in a good way.

Fiona Brennan is a total scene stealer as Ms Fleming, the misguided new-age evangelical teacher who crusades to put a stop to teenage suicide, and wants the WHOLE WORLD to know about it, even at the expense of her students’ privacy.

Costumes and set design are absolutely fabulous, creating a rich vibrant tapestry. As soon as you walk in to the auditorium at Pioneer Theatre, you are part of the assembly at Westerburg High School.

My favourite costume on the night was Martha Dunnstock’s feminine ballgown in pretty pastel pink. In contrast, the Heather outfits in distinctive bold palettes matched their harsh personalities, particularly Chandler’s devil-red aesthetic. Also in contrast, JD’s all-black long-coated outfit suited his maverick mystique, like he was wearing a suit of armour. The rainbow harness worn by one of the closest gay dads who comes out at his son’s funeral was a memorable moment. Also wonderful was the angelic clean white underpants of the beastly boys, symbolising they had reached some sort of purity in the after-life, or homo-erotic gay status (take your pick!). Oh, and Ms Fleming definitely had some very fun accessories that gave expression to her inner guru. The contrast in costuming creates a cohesion in the narrative that is complex and richly layered. Kudos to Head of Costumes Kate Simmons and team for this dedication to their craft.

Overall, this production of Heathers The Musical is so relatable and savagely beautiful it really could not have asked for more, except for a little more technical clarity in the songs.

Heather The Musical presented by Blackout Theatre Company is playing at Pioneer Theatre until 29 October 2023. For tickets and showtimes, go to https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing/1083218

Images: Light Up Photography

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