Monday, 16 May 2016

Heathers The Musical, May 15, 2016 ***

Book, Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, based on the film by Daniel Murphy, produced by Showwork & Arts Centre Melbourne 
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 22, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on May 15
This review also online and in print in Herald Sun Arts on Mon May 16, 2016. KH
Hannah Frederiksen,  Lucy Maunder, Rebecca Hetherington
The teen musical, Heathers, deals with bullying, murder, suicide, shootings and bombings in a high school so it is vital to strike the right balance between grotesquery, comedy and morality.

Trevor Ashley’s uneven production does so in part but, at times, Heathers departs from grotesque parody and descends into crassness, shallow caricatures and an unfortunate and unintended celebration of bullies and psychos.

This musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy was first staged Off-Broadway in 2014 and is based on Daniel Murphy’s 1988 cult movie of the same name.

Westerberg High is ruled by three popular, pretty and really mean gals who are all called Heather, each one more vile and vain than the other, with Heather Chandler (Lucy Maunder) being the leader of this contemptible trio and the most slappable.

Veronica Sawyer (Hilary Cole) realises that she needs the Heathers’ stamp of approval to avoid being bullied, but things go awry when her outsider boyfriend, JD (Stephen Madsen), embarks on a violent path of revenge against the Heathers and their supporters, the thuggish football jocks, Ram (Vincent Hooper) and Kurt (Jakob Ambrose).

The musical is less subversive and clever than the movie, but it features a few strong songs such as Beautiful, Cole’s soaring opening number, that introduces the social battlefield that is high school with lyrics such as, “This is not high school, it’s the Thunderdome”.

Candy Store, in which Maunder leads the pretty but hateful Heathers, is a frightening revelation that the girls’ cruel lives consist of, “Kicking nerds in the nose, scaring her, screwing him, maxing out dad’s credit card.”

Cole and Madsen’s love duet, Seventeen, provides a glimmer of hope for this pair as Veronica tries to convince JD to stop his vengeful actions and just be a 17-year old kid in love, but their final duet, I Am Damaged, is a grim ending to their ghastly romance.

Maunder is a diabolical omnipresence as Heather Chandler, the queen of the “biotches”, even after the character’s untimely demise, while Rebecca Hetherington is suitably needy as cheerleading Heather who eventually finds her heart, and Hannah Frederiksen makes bulimic Heather almost as despicable as her dead pal.

Lauren McKenna has a fine voice and gives an assured performance in dual roles, but particularly as Martha, the sweet-natured, overweight girl who is the target of dreadful abuse, and McKenna sings a poignant version of Martha’s yearning ballad, Kindergarten Boyfriend.

The ensemble is talented and the chorus numbers are sassy and vibrant, but it is a mistake to put young performers in bad wigs and fake potbellies to play adults because this makes the show look like a bad school production.

This is an entertaining, albeit patchy, production of Heathers, a show that makes Lord of the Flies look like a picnic.

Kate Herbert

Director  Trevor Ashley
Choreographer  Cameron Mitchell
Musical Director  Bev Kennedy
Designers  Emma Vine with Eamon D’arcy
Costume Design  Angela White
Lighting Design  Gavan Swift 

Hilary Cole - Veronica Sawyer
 Lucy Maunder -Heather Chandler
Rebecca Hetherington -Heather McNamara
Hannah Frederiksen -Heather Duke
Stephen Madsen-JD
 Vincent Hooper =Ram
Jakob Ambrose -Kurt

Libby Asciak,  Lauren McKenna, , Sage Douglas, Stephen McDowell, Mitchell Hicks.

By Kate Herbert

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