BWW Review: HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL is BIG FUN at Young Artists Theatre!
Heathers: The Musical, based off of the 1980's movie with the same name, has developed an even larger cult-following since it's premiere Off-Broadway at New World Stages in 2014. Since then, the licensing of the production has resulted in the dark musical turning up in all pockets of the United States, including our own backyard at Young Artists Theatre. The Santos Dantin theater at the Orlando Shakespeare Center was transformed into Westerburg High on Saturday night, and managed to be the perfect size despite it's 80-seat capacity (which was sold out). Group numbers were full, strong, and well-balanced, and featured expert use of the space. Some of the more narrative-style musical moments were lost in the use of overpowering accompaniment tracks, but phrases of high-tension and intensity were clear and powerful.
Featuring some of the strongest ensemble work I've seen so far in 2017, this cast of about 20 young adults offered a pure, genuine, enthusiastic perspective on (all of) their characters (some cast members played multiple parts including students, teachers, and parents). In numbers like "Big Fun" and "Dead Gay Son," it is impossible to keep up with all of the hilarious character choices each individual actor has made. Though the cast was consistent in its entirety, standout performances go to Brandon Munoz-Dominguez playing Ram, and Justin Cortes who played Kurt for the Saturday evening performance. Cortes (who was the understudy) showed confidence and seniority in this part, and played the absent-minded football buff with suave abandon and perfect idiocy. Not to mention his singing voice is crystal clear and consistent, though at times maybe TOO polished for the smartest guy on the football team. Acting opposite Cortes is Munoz-Dominguez as Ram. With expert comedic delivery and a singing voice to match, these two jocks steal the show, especially in their pseudo-seductive ballad, "Blue" which had me in tears from laughter.
In this production, the queen bee is not only Heather Chandler, but the blonde firecracker who inhabits her, Amber Mercer. Mercer plays Heather Chandler with expert lack-of-consideration, mastering the art of subtle bitchiness that almost barely looks like a character choice. Her verbal deliveries, eye rolls, smirks, and singing voice were the absolute highlight of the production. Not to mention her evil clones Heather Duke and Heather McNamara played by Katie Masterson and Rebecca McVeigh, respectively, acted as the perfect posse both in attitude and vocal delivery.
Gabi Hockensmith left something to be desired as Veronica. With inconsistent energy and vocal delivery, I could feel her fatigue throughout the show. Though Veronica is a monstrous role both physically and vocally, I found myself having moments of give and take with Hockensmith. In the same boat is the other half to this dysfunctional relationship, Bryan Adobo-Pichardo as J.D. Both actors had shining moments of vocal genius, demonstrating power, control, and emotion simultaneously, while other moments featured quiet, uncommitted, and at times even pitchy deliveries. The energy between the two during "Yo Girl/Meant to Be Yours" and on through the rest of the show made up for all of the previous shortcomings, I just wish we would have seen that power and commitment consistently throughout.
The absolute best part of the production is the harmonious finale/curtain call, where all the students set aside their differences, join together, and dance and sing without a care in the world. To see these young adults freely express themselves through these characters was heartwarming and nostalgic. Congratulations goes to Director Alex Champagne and Assistant Director Alexxandra Walls for bringing to life this cult-classic that had me grinning, cringing, shaking my head, and tapping my foot all at the same time. The cast and crew of Young Artists Theatre's Heathers the Musical made it "Beautiful."