High School hell yeah

Heathers (QPAC and Showwork Productions)

QPAC, The Playhouse

January 9 – 17

Forget Fetch; before there were clueless scream queens or mean girls, it was the Heathers who ruled the school in the 1988 cult movie satire “Heathers” starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. And with only minor departures from the original, “Heathers: The Musical”, offers audiences a wonderful revisit to the darkly delicious story of teenage misfit Veronica Sawyer, hustling her way into the powerful clique of alpha bitches and their bullying jock counterparts at Westerberg High.

Veronica (Jaz Flowers) is a smart girl, reflecting to her homely, outcast friend Martha ‘Dumptruck’ Dunnstock (Lauren McKenna) that it is all part of a calculated move to increase her standing in the school’s competitive social hierarchy by infiltrating the totalitarian top clique and befriending leader Heather Chandler (Kirby Burgess). But when mysterious, chaotic new-boy-on-the-block J.D. (Stephen Madsen) enters the scenario, passion ignites and tension rise… with deadly results.

veronica.jpg

Flowers is an excellent Veronica, making the role her own from early in Act One and showcasing some resounding, seemingly limitless vocals in memorable numbers such as ‘Dead Girl Walking’. And as the dreamily diabolical outsider JD, Madsen allows Flowers to shine, saving his best performances for the duo’s duets, ‘Our Love is God’ and ‘I am Damaged’.

duo on floor

Kirby Burgess is perfect as the always-aloof Heather, leader of shoulder-padded, scrunched, lip-gloss gestapo, rarely losing her tyrannical ice-queen poise and leading the wonderful ‘Candy Store’ anthemic lesson to high school losers on how to gain ultimate social status.

heathers

This adaptation is far from a sanitised version of the story; it’s tongue-in-cheek, blackly comic take on teen suicide translates easily from screen to stage with songs like ‘Blue’ (Balls) and ‘Mr Dead Gay Son’. Amongst the irreverent comedy within songs such as JD’s introduction ‘Freeze Your Brain’ ode to slurpees, are some stirring numbers and genuinely catchy tunes, like the yearning ballad  ‘Seventeen’.

balls

Unfortunately, sound mixing is a problem, particularly in the early songs of each act. While appropriately rock musical in volume, this is sometimes at the expense of the vocal audibility, which is unfortunate given the humour and wit abundant within their snappy lyrics. Some missed microphone cues and at-times clumsy set transitions also detract, particularly in Act One. Although the story stalls in Act Two as each of the fringe characters is effectively given chance to sing their musical story, this platforms the strong vocal talent on display. And the show appropriately hits its high point in its final resounding numbers of ‘Dead Girl Walking’ and ‘I am Damaged’.

“Heathers: The Musical” offers audiences a brash and energetic alternative to the traditional musical works of “Les Miserables” and “Cats”, between which it is sandwiched in QPAC’s 2016 program. Although sometimes delightfully vulgar in its embrace of the film’s unapologetically camp sensibility, Director Trevor Ashley’s production is full of fun, particularly for fans of its source material, thanks to its incorporation of so many of the movie’s infinitely quotable lines, including its memorable chainsaw exclamation. This makes the shadowed and sardonic fantasy field trip one worth taking, for Heathers and Veronicas alike.

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