Review Roundup: HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL Off-Broadway
HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL, the new musical stage adaptation of Daniel Waters' iconic 1989 dark comedy film, opens tonight, March 31, 2014 - the 25th Anniversary of the film's release - at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street).
Written by Olivier Award winner and Tony Award nominee Laurence O'Keefe (Legally Blonde, Bat Boy) and Emmy Award winner Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness, Defiance, Desperate Housewives), Heathers: The Musical is directed by famed stage and screen director Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness, Parental Guidance, She's The Man), with choreography by Emmy Award winner Marguerite Derricks (Fame, Charlie's Angels, Austin Powers films).
Direct from the sold-out world premiere staging at the Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles, many members of the cast from the L.A. engagement are continuing their roles Off-Broadway, including Barrett Wilbert Weed (Lysistrata Jones, Bare) as Veronica and Ryan McCartan (Disney's Liv and Maddie) as JD. Taking on the roles of The Heathers are Jessica Keenan Wynn (Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Nat'l Tour) as Heather Chandler, Elle McLemore (Bring It On: The Musical, Army Wives) as Heather McNamara and Alice Lee (Spring Awakening, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) as Heather Duke.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: For its first half, "Heathers" is skillfully sloppy fun, as it arranges the cool kids for vivisection with dopey blue jokes and prancing choreography by Marguerite Derricks. Mr. Murphy ("Reefer Madness") and Mr. O'Keefe ("Legally Blonde") provide the sort of bubbly generic score and sassy sendup lyrics now common to musical adaptations of film comedies. (I enjoyed J. D.'s ode to the numbing ecstasy of Slurpees.) In the second act, the show turns serious, sort of. It almost seems to be apologizing for any untoward pleasure it may have afforded us before, as it ricochets between the antic and the conciliatory. (The movie had similar tonal adjustment problems toward its end.) The production would be more digestible if it were at least a quarter shorter. Not that the audience with which I saw "Heathers" seemed to mind.
Peter Santilli, Associated Press: "Heathers" opened Monday at New World Stages, 25 years to the day that the 1989 film was released. The lively, campy tribute combines all the twisted humor and teen spirit of its predecessor with a charming score of mostly tuneful melodies and fresh lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy...The current production could do with some liberal trimming, running well over two hours and weighed down by a couple of songs that are either not strong enough to warrant inclusion or simply get in the way of the narrative...Rather than leaning on familiar impressions of the movie stars, they make the characters all their own, especially with the lovely duet "Seventeen," one example of the show's uniquely alluring ability to blend romance, humor and horror.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: In Michael Lehmann's delectable 1988 teen cult classic, Heathers, the feared-and-revered school alpha-bitches and the bullying jocks become emblems of a society of rottenness and inequality, where those in power are begging to be brought to their knees. Does the acidic comedy gain anything from being turned into a cartoonish pop musical? Hell, no. But as an extension of the movie's wicked pleasures, it has its silly charms, as demonstrated by the rowdy response of the predominantly young audience. It's not exactly very - to borrow from Heather-speak - but for insatiable fans it might almost be enough, and the tacky high school-style staging seems somehow appropriate.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: ...what works in a well-crafted film satire doesn't necessarily translate to a stage musical, where emotions and character traits must, by design, be writ larger. In adapting Daniel Waters' screenplay, composer/lyricist/librettists Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe have a swell time making fun of the stupid jocks, mean girls and other assorted caricatures who roam the halls of Westerberg High School. The first in particular goes for cheap, mean laughs, milking favorite lines from the movie while trying to titillate us with fresh irreverence...The musical's abundance of snark and its demand for empathy prove an awkward mix, and while the format allows for some intriguing twists in the story -- among them singing, dancing ghosts -- the overall effect is rather less than poignant.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Heathers" is a nostalgia trip with a decidedly more hopeful slant than its source material. There are lunchtime polls on stage ... and Big Fun T-shirts for sale in the theater lobby. That great "chainsaw" line is sneaked in there, too, and it wins a boatload of laughs in the theater. You were expecting something pitch black and morbid in a musical about suicide, school shootings and hidden bombs? So what -- did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?
David Cote, Time Out NY: What I didn't foresee -- and found utterly delightful -- was a depth of feeling and a lyrical polish that elevate the material above a retro goof. Heathers: The Musical has a book and score (by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe) filled with well-crafted songs and inspired comic lyrics. The team can confidently juggle raunch (a doo-wop number about blue balls) with a plangent ode to fading youth ("Seventeen"). In fact, this is the first musical I can remember since Spring Awakening to capture the pain and ecstasy of being a teen.
Matt Windam, AM New York: Written by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy, who each mastered the art of the satirical musical in "Bat Boy" and "Reefer Madness" respectively, "Heathers" is a clever comedy with a dark streak and a catchy pop score that is unfortunately receiving a rough and aimless production under the direction of Andy Fickman. In addition to the sloppy blocking, harsh lighting and empty set design, the performances are generally too aggressive and broad. Were they to tone it down, the musical would feel more coherent and the laughs would still land. But the material still shines at many points...
Kyle Anderson, Entertainment Weekly: Heathers is a landmark teen film, a pitch-black comedy that takes a boldly deadpan look at the various forms of psychosis that lurk in a traditional suburban high school. It's a movie about the monstrous secrets beneath all manner of facades, and despite its reputation as a big-hair camp classic, it's brimming with nuance and subtly smart observations. Heathers: The Musicalmisses just about everything that made the film great, making it not only a colossally disappointing adaptation of a beloved property but also a generally unpleasant theater experience...But perhaps the most offensive aspect of Heathers: The Musical is the strange sense of entitlement in director Andy Fickman's production. Most of the show is delivered with an air of smugness, as though the audience is supposed to adore it simply because it exists. C-
Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Daily News: Cue the corn nuts -- and much-deserved applause. "Heathers: The Musical" is such a fun and satisfying Off-Broadway treat, you might be tempted to express amazement by quoting the show...The musical's creators Kevin Murphy ("Reefer Madness") and Laurence O'Keefe ("Legally Blonde") wisely preserve the story's immortal lines without just tracing the screenplay. Their terrific pop score smartly expands the story while echoing its pitch-black but hilarious tone...In the end, two words sum it up: How very.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Forget those big-budget, starry adaptations of beloved movies. If you want to relive a cult flick, head over to the ingenious, very funny "Heathers: The Musical," which pulls off wonders on a shoestring...Adapters Laurence O'Keefe ("Legally Blonde: The Musical") and Kevin Murphy ("Reefer Madness: The Musical") have preserved the movie's memorable catchphrases and candy-colored palette while lightening up on the violent nihilism. The result is a spirited, naughty romp through a Midwestern high school. Even declawed, it's very entertaining.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: Musically, "Heathers" is the usual kids-in-high school stuff, predictable but not unpleasant, although the vulgarity of the lyrics could have been toned down. The show is about 20 minutes too long, but, over all, it's breezy entertainment. Weed, though, is the big find here. She's a performer to watch.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Rarely have I seen a professional show so poorly directed; that Heathers is a high-school musical does not excuse a high-school staging. (For the record, the director is Andy Fickman.) Actors stand in awkward bunches until the lights snap off, then trudge offstage until another group trudges on. (The younger cast members look stranded; the seasoned ones, embarrassed.) Several of the song-staging concepts, if you can call them that, would have been deemed too cheap at summer camp; pen-lights, really? But cheapness is a theme: The set bears an unfortunate resemblance to a Barbie Dreamhouse in that it's flimsy and pastel and looks like it cost $149. Was the show, whose lead producer is Harvard's Hasty Pudding, undercapitalized? Artistically, for sure.
Photo Credit: Chad Batka