BWW Reviews: Cliques and Jocks Get Theirs in HEATHERS
If you didn't know that Heathers was based on a 1988 film, you might question the good taste of composer/lyricist/bookwriters Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe in writing a musical comedy about a trench coat wearing high school outsider who gets revenge and kicks from doing in a snooty popular girl and shooting down a pair of bullying jocks.
But before the discomforting reminders of a past tragedy are introduced, Heathers gets off to a rousing start with an opening sequence that races through the ins and outs of the social warfare that is campus life at Westerburg High.
Barrett Wilbert Weed admirably anchors the evening with empathy and great pipes as the friendly and intellectual Veronica, who just wants to get through senior year in one piece so she can go off to college and not feel terrorized by boneheaded boys and cliquish girls.
She gets her chance when her quick thinking and forgery skills help get the most popular trio in school out of detention. The Heathers (Jessica Keenan Wynn, Elle McLemore and Alice Lee) share the same first name as well as elitist tastes in fashion, cuisine and social activities. (Croquet is their sporting pastime of choice.) By adopting Veronica as a kind of mascot/intern, there've offered her a get-out-of-dorkdom-free card, but when they arrange for a cruel trick to be played on Veronica's best friend, Martha (Katie Ladner), the newbie quits the clique.
By now she's gotten serious with the broodingly charismatic J.D. (Ryan McCartan), with whom she's bonded over classic literature, Slurpee brain freezes and losing her virginity, but his sick sense of humor thinly veils a sadistic bloodlust, as he tricks Veronica into being his accomplice for a trio of revenge killings.
Slipping from satirical to campy to attempts to be chilling and back to satirical again, Heathers is loaded with fun moments that never coalesce into a consistent tone. The boisterous 80s-style pop score has its share of breezy funny lyrics, but occasionally thuds hard, as in a tedious number about blue balls and a cliché-ridden gospel parody, "My Dead Gay Son," that Tony-winner Anthony Crivello pulls off with gusto.
Andy Fickman's direction shows more school spirit than cleverness and at times there appears to be an epidemic of mugging breaking out on stage. But none of that seemed to bother fans of the film, who cheered their favorite characters' entrances and whooped it up for beloved screenplay lines the night I attended.
For the rest of us, Heathers is a pleasant-enough junk food musical.