BWW Review: HEATHERS rocks at TRINITY-ON-MAIN
When I was asked to review a production of Heathers at a concert venue inside of an old church, I was intrigued and excited at the irony between the content of the musical and the building in which it was being performed. Little did I know how blown away I was going to be, which just goes to show that you don't need a modern theater to produce captivating work. When a talented cast meets a dedicated crew, it doesn't matter what kind of building you perform in, as long as everyone puts in their heart and soul; and you could feel that passion in Getup Stage Company's production of Heathers at Trinity-On-Main.
While you may not need a proscenium stage, proper stage rigging, and high end equipment, performing in a space not intended for theater certainly introduces some challenges. GUSCO and director Michael Ricciardone gathered a team of designers who worked with what they had- a repurposed church- and did what they could; sometimes in theater, limitations can make your production better by forcing you to come up with creative solutions. In lieu of a traditional set, set designer John Ricciardone created a beautiful overlapping archway design that was both modernistic in its design and yet provided the set the structural entrances and exits it needed to help an audience visualize when a character is in or outside. Using a scrim upstage to hide the band also served its purpose as a sound dampener, which was very much necessary given the speaker system in the church. As a concert venue in a naturally harmonic space, the band was loud and felt like it was coming from everywhere. That's not their fault, that's just how bands work. However, given the limitations on speakers in a repurposed church often led to the band overpowering the cast's microphones; a common issue in any musical production. Lastly, lacking a widespread lighting rig, lighting the stage was a challenge that Brighton Horan, Ellie Kelly, and Michael Ricciardone picked their battles on. There was a lot of space on stage and not a lot of room for front lighting, so some scenes that happen further down stage ran the risk of having actors in partial shadow, but the lighting team made up for that with effective uses of colors as well as LED tape that ran along the set arches that blinked and evolved as the scenes progressed.
The things that GUSCO could control, however, was the people. Ricciardone assembled a spectacularly talented cast that was willing and eager to tackle the heavy psychological and vocal requirements of a show as demanding as Heathers. With characters as badly damaged as they are, Tori Sperry's Veronica and Raul Calderon's J.D. were engaging, dynamic, and properly frightening when they needed to be. Pairing that with their vocal skill and you had a pair of leads that dominated the production. Equally impressive was the vocal command that the Heathers portrayed: The tight harmonies of Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara, and Heather Duke- played by Annika Nelson, Katrina Lacombe, and Kendyl Davis, respectively- as they powerhoused through songs like "Candy Store" and "Big Fun" was so crisp, clean, and on point that at times I forgot I was listening to them live because they were so in time and in tune that it seemed impossible. Lastly, no high school story is complete with horror stories of high school jocks, and the pairing of Ram and Kurt, played by Coleman Toomey and Dylan Cote respectively, brought the stereotype to life in an exaggerated, comical, and extremely uncomfortable way: exactly what a musical like Heathers requires.
Theater can be done anywhere where there is a performer, a space to perform in, and an audience member to watch it. It's up to the creative talents of the cast and crew to overcome any limitations their space may have to create compelling art, and Getup Stage Company lived up to their mission to create cutting edge theatre for teens and young adults. Their production of Heathers overcame many technical hurdles, but with the talent of the cast and creativity of the crew, GUSCO staged an emotional, thrilling, and rightfully problematic production of Heathers in a repurposed church; and the dichotomy of the musical's content and location of the production ultimately made the production that much more powerful.