Performing “Heathers: The Musical” right now can’t be done as a tribute to the classic movies of the 1980s. This musical and its central themes are a brutal indicator of how much has changed in this country in terms of what can be laughed at.
In the show, Veronica Sawyer joins the Heathers, the most popular trio in high school. She also falls in love with the mysterious new kid, J.D. Veronica bullies old friends to make the Heathers happy and stages suicides to make J.D. happy in his plot to rid the school of the cruel, popular kids.
The Daniel Waters movie “Heathers,” on which the musical is based, clearly has aged since it appeared in 1989. The 2010 musical, with book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, also hasn't held up very well in the wake of mass shootings, school bullying and incidents of youth suicide.
Rebecca Weatherby as Veronica is the production’s clear standout, with a powerful voice and easy charm. Despite good individual performances, the Heathers, played by Croft Stoney, Adeline Cimino and Marissa Rothfarb, lack the group dynamic that would cause others to tremble at their feet.
One might be forgiven for thinking of the 1999 Columbine shooting when J.D. appears on stage dressed in black and wearing a long trench coat (though the outfit is true to the movie that came out a decade earlier).
The Footlight Players’ production, directed by Don Brandenburg, is raunchy, violent, dark and a bit hard to stomach in places, even though it’s a comedy. (It’s hard to laugh when it’s clear everyone on stage wants the audience to know that they know how awful this behavior is.) Jon-Michael Perry’s energetic and surpassingly acrobatic choreography attempts to keep the production light.
Still, “Heathers: The Musical” feels dated. The fact is, in 2018, it’s hard to laugh at a cheerleader struggling to talk with her mouthful when her mouth is full of pills that she was going to swallow because she was bullied by her friends.
“Heathers: The Musical,” part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, runs through June 16 at The Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. More information can be found at FootlightPlayers.net.
The theater is collecting donations that will go to The Sandy Hook Promise and The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Reviewer J.R. Pierce is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.