BWW Review: TheatreLAB and Firehouse Theatre's Co-production of HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL is So Very.
Those familiar with the cult film, "Heathers," already know what they are getting into when they purchase tickets to the first co-production of TheatreLAB and Firehouse Theatre. This staging comes with a hard R-rating and grazes over several touchy topics such as high school violence, suicide and rape. Not since Virginia Repertory Theatre's acclaimed staging of SPRING AWAKENING has there been so much teen angst on one stage in Richmond. Like the aforementioned production, the young, spry cast of TheatreLAB and Firehouse Theatre's HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL brings tenacity, rockin' vocals and an abundance of snark to Richmond audiences.
Laurence O'Keefe's and Kevin Murphy's musical homage to the cult 1988 film, similar to its source material, does not take itself seriously. HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL is a dark and disturbing story set to bubbly pop-rock tunes.
Veronica Sawyer (Carmen Wiley) is the 17-year-old outsider at Westerburg High School. Desperate to be embraced by the in-crowd, she proves her value to the Heathers (Christie Jackson, Kathy Oh, and Michaela Nicole) when she shows off her proficiencies in the art of forgery. Her longtime best friend Martha Dunnstock (Leanna Hicks), known by the rest of the high school as "Martha Dumptruck," is the collateral damage of Veronica's newfound popularity. J.D. (Adam Valentine) is Veronica's creepy boyfriend who plots to put the Heathers in their place. Ram and Kurt (Steven Martella and Caleb Wade) are Westerburg's token jocks.
Director Debra Clinton and her creative team paint the production with deserved satirical strokes. Ben Burke's pop-up comic book set is functional and accentuated by Michael Jarrett's lighting design. Aza Raine's spirited and cheeky choreography is well-executed by the ensemble. Ruth Hedberg's costumes add a brush of realism. Under Jason Marks' musical direction, the 17-member cast finds harmony amidst a chaotic story.
As J.D., Adam Valentine is brooding and wears the role of outsider well. While some of the higher notes of his track are a challenge, he makes up for it with the beautifully disturbing duet "Our Love is God." Steven Martella and Caleb Wade add prepubescent humor and induce belly laughs with the riotous and vulgar, "Blue," a song about their sexual frustrations. Billy Christopher Maupin and Eddie Webster have their own scene-stealing moment during the hilarious and twisty "I Love My Dead Gay Son." Leanna Hicks gives an affecting performance as Martha and stands out during the emotional "Kindergarten Boyfriend." Casey Daniel lets loose and shows off her vocals in "Shine a Light."
The two leading ladies are in a league all their own. Christie Jackson is the glue that holds the Heathers together, in character and performance. Her Heather Chandler is venomous, full of sass and spite. Her powerful pop vocals and theatrical abilities soar in "Candy Store." Carmen Wiley, making a stunning professional debut as Veronica Sawyer, slays, literally, with her performance and ear candy vocals. She carries the show on her shoulders and shines in the musical numbers "Dead Girl Walking" and "Seventeen."
While the production has its flaws, HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL offers impressive, high-energy performances and nods aplenty to the cult film. The co-production from TheatreLAB and Firehouse Theatre has been playing to a sold-out house since previews. HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL was recently extended through August. Tickets can be purchased from www.firehousetheatre.org.