- BY SANDY STAGGS
As usual, it’s the college theatres that are pushing boundaries, for better or worse, with contemporary tales in an amalgam of teenage angst and the macabre.
On the heels of the horror-film spoof “Evil Dead: The Musical” at Limestone and the American premiere of Marla Rubin’s blood-thirsty creature saga “Let the Right One In,” comes the Upstate premiere of “Heathers: The Musical.”
Produced entirely by an all-student divine dozen of Converse theatre majors for their Senior Capstone project, this Off-Broadway rock musical with music, lyrics, and a book by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy is based on the 1988 cult hit movie with Wynona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty,
And the film’s extremely dark nature and handling of taboo topics like teen suicide, bullying, date rape, misogyny, homophobia and murder only becomes more stark and startling up close and personal on stage. Director Macey Atkins even included an exit strategy (no questions asked) in her introduction for those who were uncomfortable with any of the show’s morbid humor.
The dynamite Paige Vasel (recently in GLOW Lyric Theatre’s summer production of “HAIR!”) plays Veronica, the drifting teen who trades in her dignity for popularity with a color-coordinated trio of croquet-playing mean girls all named Heathers: queen Heather Chandler (Maddie Tisdel), bulimic Heather Duke (Skylan Kimbrell) and head cheerleader Heather McNamara (Haley Thomas).
Vasel shines brightly here in engaging dramatic and comedic form and excels at ballads like “Our Love Is God” or “Seventeen” (which pleasantly beckons a late-career Eurthymics song), and the light rock components such as “Beautiful.” And she flat-out slays this book’s most risqué and exhilarating sequence ”Dead Girl Walking” (without the partial nudity in the New York version) as she seduces mysterious bad bay J.D. (played by Alinda Horton) literally thrusting her virginity in a mind-blowing musical seduction and then coyly tells him afterward, “That was my first time.”
Maddie Tisdel, who spent much of her summer with the Scrappy Shakespeare troupe in “Twelfth Night” and lead another group of twelve in “Godspell” as John the Baptist/Judas last spring, is the ultimate “mythic bitch” here: authoritative, cold and heartless. And though she dies of draino poisoning early on, she comes back with other victims as a morbid Greek Chorus of sort.
Several of the male roles are astutely played by Converse students such as the two jock bullies and horn dogs (linebacker Ram Sweeney played by Derrik Williams and quarterback Kurt, played by Layla Thurman with her hair pulled back into a classic 1980s mullet) who salaciously and hysterically deliver a hormonally lewd tune (“Blue”) about their need to “relieve” that is in such poor taste, even Mel Brooks wouldn’t have touched it in his bawdiest days.
The score (track music in this production) is a little clunky but there are gem’s such “Kindergarten Boyfriend” with Kristen Waddell (also the show’s props mistress) as Veronica’s childhood plump friend Martha Dunnstock in what may have been the best vocal showing of the evening with this delicate and tender ballad.
And while the adults in the story are either aloof, inept or just jerks, leading one to expect that the teens in Sherwood, Ohio are bound to repeat the process of ignorance, the two guest male actors ham it up delightfully as dads comforting one another after their sons’ double suicide love-pact in the show-stopping hilarious number “Dead Gay Son.”
Other than the sometimes jaw-dropping lyrics and occasional out-of-left-field one-liners ripped right from the film (“F*** me gently with a chainsaw”) “Heathers” is highly-entertaining fare under the direction of the enterprising Atkins.
The other seniors in this Capstone project are Zane Nelson (also costume designer), Caitlin Conneely (Stage Manager), Brook Nelson (set designer), Kate Riedy as Lighting Designer and Gem Taylor (also a Scrappy Shakespeare alum) on the sound board.
“Heathers: The Musical” had a very short run at the Hazel B. Abbott Theater at Converse College, 580 East Main Street in Spartanburg, SC 29302. Catch the next show about the women in Shakespeare’s life and canon, “A Part Equal.” Call the Box Office at (864) 596-9725.