BWW Reviews: Denton Community Theatre's HEATHERS Belting Vocals and Black Humor Make for Big Fun
Heathers, the cult smash film turned cult smash musical, has found its way to the quaint halls of Denton Community Theatre, turning the space into a flourishing Westerberg High School setting. Caleb Norris and Brad Speck's Heathers brings the joyous energy, the hilarious dark wit, and all the soul the black humored show necessitates. Fans may find themselves frustrated at unpolished music here and there, but at the end of the day, Denton Community Theatre's Heathers is a celebration of all that glorious angst given by some truly beautiful performers.
Heathers follows the titular mean-girl trio as they welcome in Veronica Sawyer, a kind-hearted girl getting swept up in the cutthroat life of the popular clique. Sawyer's senior year is interrupted by transfer student Jason Dean, who leads her quite off the beaten path of the typical high schooler. As manslaughter begins to look more like attempted massacre, Sawyer and her new love deal with larger than life dramatics in one of the darker comedic looks at teenage angst.
Norris and Speck found in Claire Marie Crenshaw the nuanced Veronica Sawyer their production demanded. Crenshaw's rendition doesn't depend strongly on the original, instead allowing her the fragile and emotive highs and lows that lend to this Heathers' strengths. Her voice is glowing, finally rising to its heights by the time she laughs through 'Fight for Me' and her sincerely powerful 'Dead Girl Walking.'
The darkness behind Crenshaw's light is found in Daniel Mooney's Jason Dean (J.D.). Rather than the usual dichotomy of either blood-rage murderer behind shining eyes, or the cunning manipulator with a German pistol, Norris and Speck hone Mooney into an all-too familiar danger. Mooney's J.D. is every young poet on the brink, the confident (on the verge of pretentious) artist allowing himself to be pushed too far. What was a delight was getting to see J.D.'s gradual break down and transformation, instead of having to imply it from situational need.
Each of the three Heathers showcase talent to complement the other. The queen in red, Anna Pena's Heather Chandler, is cruel and delights in being unbearably destructive to those around her. Esperanza Martinez Scott, the right hand woman to Pena, turns the show out with her voice, raw anger and performance mixed with vocal quality you just don't find in community theatre. The third of the group, Claire Methvin's Heather McNamara, helps pivot the show's tone in one of Norris and Speck's stand out numbers, 'Shine a Light', which Scott then reprises behind Methvin's strongest scene.
Thankfully, the seminal main cast isn't all these co-directors have to offer. Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney, two of the most testosterone-dripping jock characters in the theater business, are given new life in Gabriel Belmonte and Andy Searcy, respectively. The duo have as great a chemistry as the protagonist lovers - experiencing their comedic timing and splitting duet is worth the ticket price alone. Down to the smallest member, Norris and Speck illustrate the surrealist high school misery, with stand outs like Dorian Carrillo and Rachel Rice giving consistent character and hilarity in the background of scenes or during transitions. Performers like Kelly Hudson, whose dancing and voice are crisp as the choices her characters make, make this Heathers a living, breathing joy.
The last performer to mention is the one who leaves the deepest impression - Veronica Sawyer's best friend, Martha Dunstock, can make or break a production's second act. In the hands of Caitlyn Polson, 'Kindergarten Boyfriend' (one of the more daunting numbers in the show, both vocally and performatively), is a showstopper. Polson's voice is unbelievable, wrenching, and one that truly brings the house down.
And yes, Polson's solo is one of the most impressive in the show - not that other performers don't have the ability or talent needed to execute, but occasionally, Raymond Staniszewski's music direction falls flat behind the performers. At times, towards the show's opening, it seemed that the score lagged, or performers were unable to find the right harmony - even leads suffered from lack of vocal direction. That being said, the band does pull itself together quickly, and once a performer stumbled, they all seemed to fix any error before there could be a second occurrence. Thankfully, every duet or group number is a passion of love, 'Seventeen' and 'Dead Girl Walking' in particular. Brent Dow's sound design lent no favor to the faults, with the orchestra overwhelming the harmonies or altogether ignoring leads, but this, too, seemed to repair itself through the show.
The tech, despite the tonal shift, was straight forward and smart. Tony Rose's scenic design was original and adept, never necessitating too rough of a transition, and making great use of levels for the second acts various scenes. The lighting offered by Les Deal was colorful and subtle, working wonders off Rose's simplistic design schemes. The visuals given by Rose, Deal, Elsie Barrow's multilayered costuming, and Amanda Guerrero's choreography, all lend to Norris and Speck's vivid production goals.
Excusing the occasional technical stumble, Denton Community Theatre's Heathers is a passionate spectacle worth seeing twice. The unbridled, limitless performance given by individuals and the overwhelming spirit of larger numbers and the plot's rise combine to make this Heathers just the kind of big fun the end of spring needs.
Heathers runs from April 6-15th. Tickets are available online or at the door.