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Review: HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL at Roxy's Downtown

Review: HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL at Roxy's Downtown

The production runs until July 23rd, 2022

Artistic Director Rick Bumgardner said in his curtain speech, "At the time the movie Heathers was made, no one thought the events depicted would ever happen in any high school in the United States. And now they are happening with great regularity." Much like the movie Idiocrasy, something that seemed so absurd in the 80s is now becoming our new normal.

Heathers: The Musical is based on the 1989 film of the same name, written by Daniel Waters, and staring Wynona Rider, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty. With book, music, and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness), it was originally directed by Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness) and choreographed by Marguerite Derricks (Showgirls), and premiered on September 13, 2010 at Joe's Pub in New York City. The show was nominated for two Drama Desk Awards in 2014, including Outstanding Music Nominee, an Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best New Musical in 2014, and the winner of two WhatsOnStage Awards in 2019, including Best New Musical.

Heathers: The Musical is the comically dark story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy teenage misfit who offers her forgery skills to the Heathers, the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High, in exchange for the good life. Before she can get comfortable atop the high school food chain, Veronica falls in love with J.D., the new kid who doesn't take any crap from the Jocks. When Heather Chandler kicks Veronica out of the group for defending Veronica's geeky friend, Martha "Dumptruck," Veronica begs for Chandler's forgiveness, but J.D. has other plans. There is LANGUAGE and ADULT THEMES. PG-13 for sure.

The ensemble is close knit, the humour is dark, and you can't help but laugh at these Larry Davidesque characters, these teenage Sinefelds that treat each other so so badly. Direction by Kipp Simmons rides the balance perfectly between reality and kitsch. The vocals and the Skypit band are super-tight thanks to Musical Direction by Rich Bruhn. The score is rangy, going from shredding rock to poignant ballads, and the cast and band handle it well. There are also some horn players up there in the Skypit, because you can't do 80s without the horns. The sound was well mixed by Porter Jones. Choreographer Jenny Mitchell served up some quintessential 80's, using everything from the Roger Rabbit to classic MC Hammer and Milli Vanilli moves! There was some nice atmospheric rock n' roll lighting by Scott Olney, and a simple multi-level set by J Branson that served the action well. Drew Thomas choreographed the many fight scenes, with a sweet slo-mo section to humorous effect! Costumes by Chadwick Armstrong give us totally gnarly 80s realness, along with an exact replica of the Movie Heathers outfits, right down to their shoes and scrunchies.

The adult authority figures in this show are hilarious and ineffective. Nathan Frock and Brad Robertson play a handful of characters, including Ram and Kurt's dads, and give us a strong delivery and fabulous stage kiss in My Dead Gay Son. Christi Moore plays both Veronica's mom, and Pauline Fleming, the hippie High School Teacher who tries to get the students to have "rap" sessions to deal with the suicides of their peers. Moore's Fleming is appropriately spacy and touchy feely, and does a great job delivering her big fun number, Shine A Light, with big energy. The ensemble is well balanced vocally, and represent the usual suspects like Stoner Chick (Ashley Strella), Beleaguered Geek (Cadence LaBoeuf), Hipster Dork (Hagan Simmons), and New Wave Girl (Dex O'Neal).

Mary Michael Gomez is very appealing as Heather Chandler, the lead Heather. Gomez's Chandler is deliciously pointed and acerbic, all wrapped in a marshmallow façade. Her high belt makes her a natural for this role, and she uses it to great miasmatic effect in many of her songs, including Candy Store and Big Fun. Gomez uses her lyrical legit voice in the ballad The Me Inside of Me, juxtaposing Chandler's tough exterior with tender emotion. Playing second in command Heather Duke is Elaine Watson. Watson's Duke is full of venom and fire, and her powerhouse vocals in Never Shut Up Again gave me chills. Don't blink or you'll miss her costume surprise! Katriana Kisner's Heather McNamara is perfectly non-dominant and her approach works beautifully, especially for her big ballad in Act II, Lifeboat. Kisner sings it with such pathos, living the dangers of her co-dependency and perilous position within the clique.

The male energy in this show is pretty puerile, delivered up to us in stereotypical 80s Jock action via vapid football players Ram Sweeney (Drew Thomas) and Kurt Kelly (Tim Hampton), who do a great job playing these airheads. This dynamic duo gets foiled by Veronica (Madison Laughlin) in the rape rap You're Welcome, as the young men make a lame attempt at subduing Veronica in a corn field after some serious cow tipping. Contrast this with Martha Dumptruck's (sorry, Dunnstock's) absolutely gut wrenching song Kindergarten Boyfriend. Jasmine Hall plays Martha with great realistic depth, creating the tortured nerdy girl who is so in love with the callous Ram Sweeney, but is so completely rejected and destroyed by him that she can't see life beyond high school. Hall's rendition is so tender and beautiful, sung so sweetly with excellent delivery.

Our heroine, Veronica Sweeney, is played with so much heart by Madison Laughlin. She is paired with Dalton DeVoe, her love interest, outsider Jason "J.D." Dean. DeVoe matches Laughlin's energy perfectly, and their harmonies are spot on. Both actors are so fully immersed and focused in their roles, and each other, and navigate the rock score well, from the hard driving Dead Girl Walking, where Laughlin gets to show off her awesome belty chops while navigating some intimate choreography, to the anthemic Seventeen, replete with gorgeous harmonies. DeVoe uses a tortured falsetto in Meant To Be Yours as his character slowly becomes unhinged before he commits his final act of violence.

This show has lots of witty dialogue and ridiculous one liners, but there's also plenty of drama and sincere heartfelt emotion. This show has a lot of heart, so get out and see it! You only have a few nights left! PS check out the ubiquitous 80s scrunchies on the tea lights. Perfect!

Coming next to the Roxy's Downtown Stage? Big River, which will run August 4-20, 2022.

Heathers: The Musical runs until July 23rd. You can still catch the show this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $30, which can be reserved by calling (316) 265-4400 or by ordering online at Roxy's Downtown is located at 412 1/2 E. Douglas Ave., Wichita, KS 67202 Email:

Paula Makar was the Intimacy Director for this production of Heathers.

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