What: “Heathers: The Musical”
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday; additional performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, till Sept. 16
Where: 2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave., Bend
Cost: $25, $22 students and seniors
Contact: 2ndstreettheater.com or 541-312-9626
2nd Street Theater in Bend is kicking things off with the high school comedy “Heathers: The Musical,” one of the more recent films to be transmuted into a musical for the stage. Based on the 1988 cult film “Heathers,” the stage version comes replete with some truly great songs and hilarious choreography in this joint outing from Lonely Fish Productions and Stage Right Productions.
As luck would have it, the first day of school in the show is also opening night at 2nd Street: Sept. 1. Fans of the film will need little encouragement to get to the Bend theater sometime before the show’s Sept. 16 closing. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the classic teen comedy — “what’s your damage?” — you should know going in that it’s a dark comedy that hinges, irreverently, on teen turmoil — the quest for popularity, the trouble with bullies and, um, murder. And teen suicide.
Before you start crafting that Facebook post or letter to the editor, bear in mind, “Heathers” is set in 1989, years before the Thurston and Columbine high school shootings, when it seemed a little more far-fetched for kids to resort to violent extremes. (Read on for how the producers plan to cope with issues raised by the show.)
Newcomer Natalie Kniola, who studied musical theater at Columbia College in Chicago before coming to Central Oregon, steps into the role of Veronica Sawyer, made famous on screen by Winona Ryder. Veronica is both a brain and a beauty, the latter of which pulls her into the orbit of three popular mean girls, all named Heather, who preside over their Westerburg High classmates with iron fists and knee-high socks.
Kniola told GO! after a recent rehearsal that, back when she auditioned, she did so with a few roles in mind — and not necessarily Veronica as her first choice.
“Heather Chandler is the most fun,” she said, referring to the queen-bee of the Heathers. Chandler, played here by Anyssa Bohanan, is friend and tormentor to Heather Duke (Danielle Herron), sort of the second in command, followed by Heather McNamara (Miranda Rose). Veronica’s intelligence, and her conscience, make it somewhat difficult to enjoy the fruits of popularity, given the casual cruelty of the Heathers — particularly Chandler.
As script timing would have it, Veronica’s budding popularity coincides with the arrival of a new pupil at Westerburg, the playfully detached, Baudelaire quoting J.D. (Matt Vigil), who told GO! that the movie “Heathers” has long been a favorite film.
About playing J.D., he said, “I feel like I’m commonly cast as, like, a psychopath. It fits pretty well. He’s a very complicated character. In one of his songs, he goes through every human emotion. It’s something I can relate to — going through all the emotions in one day is something that has happened to me many times.”
A born anti-hero, J.D. finds himself in a fight with two jocks, Kurt (Tommy Kuchulis) and Ram (Sean Arvin). Time slows during the fisticuffs, making for some terrific fight-scene choreography during the song “Fight for Me.” As the song title implies, Veronica’s a little turned on by J.D. and the violence.
Later, en route to a kegger hosted by Kurt and Ram, Veronica runs into J.D. at 7-Eleven, the one constant in his rootless childhood. He sings an ode to Slurpees (“Freeze Your Brain”), and she reveals her disdain for her so-called friends.
At the party, Veronica shuts down a prank Heather Chandler had planned to pull on Martha Dunnstock (Jaime Speed), Veronica’s very recent best friend. Veronica succeeds in stopping Chandler, who vows to wreck Veronica’s social status. At which point Veronica drunkenly throws up on Chandler, sealing her fate.
With little left to lose socially, Veronica breaks into J.D.’s bedroom, and his heart. But after a nightmare starring Chandler, Veronica decides to go to Chandler’s to apologize.
Chandler is not receptive, but she does drink a hangover remedy whipped up by J.D., then promptly dies. At J.D.’s urging, Veronica forges a convincing, if uncharacteristically thoughtful suicide note in Chandler’s hand. Heather Duke is standing by to assume the mantle, and, well, let’s just say the death count doesn’t stop with Chandler. And that’s all before intermission.
Adults in the school and at home are, of course, comically clueless about what’s really transpiring at Westerburg High. Rounding out the cast of adults are Clinton K. Clark, who sports a hell of a mustache as Kurt’s dad; Chris Gallagher as Ram’s dad; and music director Karen Sipes appears in the cast as dippy guidance counselor Miss Fleming.
Director Scott Schultz says the show is appropriate for adults and mature teens. He’s sensitive to, and sensible about, the many issues the show raises. He plans to have help on hand for anyone troubled by its content — whether they were once bullied or otherwise have dark thoughts stirred up by the material, however comically it’s intended.
“There’s going to be literature, and we’re going to have a certified counselor at every show,” he said. “So if the show connects with someone, or someone’s had those thoughts, and they happen to see the show, we’re going to announce at every show that we do have someone here in the building that can help them through the difficult time.”