Thursday, September 15, 2022

Heathers: The Musical, on Roku Channel

Seriously, Gen X really did have to work harder than subsequent generations. For instance, our high school mean girls had to bully fellow students without the help of social media. Just imagine Michael Lehmann’s 1988 cult favorite Heathers with Instagram and TikTok. Wisely, the stage musical adaptation never tries to update anything. It doesn’t need to, because the black comedy still feels contemporary. The tunes composed by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy are also pretty rousing, as viewers can hear during the stage performance (or edited performances) Andy Fickman captures on film in Heathers: The Musical, which premieres tomorrow on the Roku Channel.

Heathers: The Musical
had regional and Off-Broadway runs here, but the original London production made it to the West End, where it was recently revived. This is that production. As you might remember, Veronica Sawyer (the Winona Ryder character) is somewhat shy, but she shrewdly takes advantage of an opportunity to ingratiate herself with the trio of “Heathers” who stand atop the school’s social food chain. Heather Chandler is the meanest of the lot. However, the freshly transferred Jason “J.D.” Dean (still Christian Slater’s best role) is not intimidated by her or the two dumb jocks she uses as her enforcers.

There are serious sparks flaring between Sawyer and Dean, but that threatens to snuff out her sudden popularity. After defying Chandler, Sawyer trundles to the head Heather’s house to make a groveling apology, but instead, she and Dean sort-of kind-of accidentally kill her. When they successfully make it look like suicide, they ironically turn her into an
After School Special-style martyr. Additional bodies will follow.

O’Keefe & Murphy, who also wrote the stage-book, stay quite faithful to the original film, but they somewhat bulk up the role of Martha Dunnstock, Sawyer’s unfortunately overweight childhood friend, which works out quite well, especially given Mhairi Angus’s nice featured performance. Frankly, the sets are more colorful than you probably remember the film looking, while the choreography is appealingly upbeat and energetic, in a
Fame-ish kind of way.

Of course, the show requires a strong Sawyer, which Alisa Davidson supplies. Her voice is impressive and she has a nice facility for comic timing. Frankly, she might have better chemistry with Simon Gordon playing Dean than Ryder and Slater had. Their initial courtship sequences are weirdly sweet and endearing, before it all descends into macabre chaos. After Sawyer, the most important character is probably her nemesis, Chandler, whom Maddison Firth portrays with entertainingly nasty flare.

Admittedly, things get a little woke-preachy when the funeral for the jocks Dean frames as suicidal gay lovers is expanded into a major number, but in general, O’Keefe & Murphy keep all the dead teenager dark humor that made the original film so distinctive, without evoking any recent memories of real-life tragedies. Still, if you are easily “triggered” or the professionally offended type, then you probably shouldn’t be seeing a musical based on
Heathers in the first place.

In the early-1980s, pay-cable often programmed filmed Broadway shows. It seems they are coming back again, with
Heathers following Apple’s Come from Away and Disney’s Hamilton. For Heathers, the intimate West End makes it slightly more exotic. Seeing the show in-person would require quite a commitment, even for New Yorkers. The enthusiasm of the audience, many of whom don Heathers-style blazers and mini-skirts, comes through, without becoming a distraction. It is a fun show, despite a few clunky PSA lines of dialogue. Recommended for fans of the film and Broadway musicals, Heathers: The Musical starts streaming tomorrow (9/16) on the Roku Channel.