“Heathers: The Musical” impresses with talent
Imagine Regina George lying dead from the bus accident instead of injured in a humorous body brace. That’s Heathers — the dark satirical movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. With upbeat songs about blue balls, rape and suicide, Heathers is a musical matched perfectly with its source material, one of the most controversial movies of its time. USC alum and long-time composer Laurence O’Keefe teamed up with Desperate Housewives writer Kevin Murphy to create Heathers: The Musical, which ran off-Broadway in 2014. Rumored to be coming to Broadway sometime next year, USC Musical Theater Repertory’s production is a can’t-miss show.
Julianna Keller, a sophomore majoring in cognitive science, stars in Heathers as Veronica Sawyer, a too-good-for-this-town nerd who decides that befriending the most popular clique in school will grant her freedom from the low-lifes she is forced to go to school with. This almighty popular clique — crowned “the Heathers” from the shared name of the three girls — does not accept Veronica without quid pro quo. Veronica’s uncanny ability to forge anyone’s handwriting tempts the Heathers enough to include her in their mean girl shenanigans. Like any high school heroine would, Veronica realizes being friends with mean girls is more of a burden than she was expecting. However, when Veronica meets the mysterious new kid, J.D., she is swept off her feet from his tragic past and nonchalant penchant for quoting poetry. The two start dating, but before long, J.D. goes from damaged to deranged, forcing Veronica to make some life or death decisions.
The original screenplay by Daniel Waters is the black-satire comedy that drew audiences to and away from the film when it was released in 1988. The musical keeps with the spirit of the film and handles dark issues in the same uncomfortably upbeat way. For instance, the two jocks, played by the electric duo Tristan McIntyre and Patrick Olsen, go through many antics to get girls in their beds. Their numbers are spectacular to watch and depressing to think about, giving their characters a magnetic quality.
Specifically, the actor who plays Ram, freshman theatre major Tristan McIntyre, is unequivocally the star of the show with his dance moves. Keller carries the show admirably and is complemented by moments of brilliance from her co-star Sean Soper, a sophomore majoring in theatre, who plays J.D. Admittedly, one of the best numbers of the whole show features none of the leads but Tyler Ellis and Michael Takla singing about loving their “gay, dead sons” before unabashedly revealing their own homosexual feelings toward one another in a magnificent number. As for the rest of the cast, they are all in, dancing their hearts out, committing to every simulated blow job and dry hump like their life depends on it. When it comes to the music, it might sound strange at first, but just listen. The lyrics have too much acerbic wit for their own good, forcing audience members to let out a disturbing chuckle. The live band, consisting of drums, strings and keyboards, was a wonderful touch, even if too loud during some of the songs.
Perhaps what is so triumphant about the entire show is that the director, Jack McCarthy, is only a sophomore.
“To me, Heathers tells the story of young people searching for love, acceptance and beauty in a damaged world. Who isn’t excluded from feeling a need for love?” McCarthy said. “Although our world certainly isn’t perfect, Heathers show us that if we could accept our collective damaged state and find a way to love in spite of the pain … Well, we can still make the world beautiful.”
Teen angst has been handled in several musicals before, such as in Spring Awakening, Hairspray and Grease, but Heathers is more than horny teens struggling against parents — unless you add in rape, abusive relationships, homophobia, teen suicide, parent disapproval, murder and school shootings. Do not let the depressing sounds of these words keep from seeing this spectacularly well-done show. Heathers makes the audience think about some of society’s biggest issues. The remaining showtimes are Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Oct. 23 at 2:30 p.m.
The show is playing at the Massman Theater. Tickets are free. For more information, go online.