Heathers: The Musical is campy fun, but its satire doesnt totally play today

HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL by Kevin Murphy and Laurence OKeefe (Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House). Runs to October 6. $12-$28..

HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL by Kevin Murphy and Laurence OKeefe (Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House). Runs to October 6. $12-$28. 416-978-8849, tickets.harthouse.ca. See listing. Rating: NNN

The 1980s was a decade jam-packed with teen movies, but few were as absurdly dark as Heathers. The 1988 film, which acquired a cult following, became a rock musical in 2010 and continues to evolve in this form, recently opening in Londons West End. Now Heathers: The Musical has made its Toronto premiere, with production values that contain more kick than a bag of barbeque Corn Nuts.

Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder in the film, Emma Sangalli here), a student at Westerburg High in Ohio who longs for acceptance by an obnoxious trio of popular girls (Mary Bowden, Paige Foskett and Becka Jay), all named Heather. As Veronica befriends them she also falls for J.D. (Justan Myers), a brooding, mysterious new guy who challenges her desire to ascend the social ranks. Things take an extremely dark turn when J.D. and Veronica begin dating and he pressures her to stand up to the Heathers and their cool clique.

The shows book, music and lyrics come from the undoubtedly depraved pens of Laurence OKeefe and Kevin Murphy. Like most plays about teenagers, this one teems with one-dimensional characters, except for hero Veronica.

As campy comedy, its easy to forgive the lack of depth and just enjoy the over-the-top silliness. But its harder to overlook that the source material is culled from the 1980s. In 2018, themes like suicide, homophobia, attempted rape, violence and eating disorders more often come with trigger warnings than punch lines. Although this version attempts to satirize much of this (for example the rousing second-act opener, I Love My Dead Gay Son), it doesnt always succeed.

(Note: at a post-show discussion I attended, director Jennifer Walls addressed this topic, explaining how much care the company took exploring the fraught material, including hiring an intimacy director.)

Yet, there is still a lot to enjoy. Wallss staging is packed with visual humour, like the puffs of smoke accompanying the Heathers first entrance. Sangalli is effervescent as Veronica, and she and Myers have excellent chemistry. The energetic cast sounds terrific backed up by Jonathan Corkals band, nailing the challenging harmonies and transitions in the many ensemble numbers. Brandon Kleimans vivid, multi-level set, complete with a screen for projections of videos and 1980s-styled graphics, is perfection.

And theres the 80s hair. And scrunchies. If you cant laugh at that, what is your damage, Heather?


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