A young energetic cast blasts their way through high school hijinks and hormones in this stellar teen comedy.
BY SANDY STAGGS
WARNING: This review, like the musical, contains profane language!
We all remember high school and the need to fit in or standout: the pretty rich girls, the bullies, the dumb-ass jerk jocks, the sluts, the freaks, the stoners, the nerds, the homicidal maniacs.
Wait, what the f***?
Before Mean Girls, there was Heathers, the ultimate teenage dark comedy that skewers classroom dynamics with the most outlandish treatment of angst, hormones, cliques, suicide and yes, even murder.
And The Market Theatre Company is the first community theatre in the Upstate with enough balls to mount this grisly but hilarious musical version by Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde: The Musical) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness).
Kassi McMillan plays our heroine, the straight-laced intellectual and prolific diarist Veronica Sawyer, originated by a young Wynona Ryder in the 198 cult classsic film. That was before her shoplifting charge and way before Stranger Things.
Veronica is a senior at Westerburg High School in Ohio, and counting the days before she can exit high school hell and plunge into an Ivy League college. Her kindness and forgery skills one day piques the interest of the Heathers, the three most popular, beautiful, blonde and ruthless girls in school (all named Heather in colorful tartan skirts and matching socks, sweaters and scrunchies) who invite her into their tight-knit circle and croquet matches.
Head bitch Heather Chandler (Maggie McNeil, the humorous prostitute from last year’s Cabaret) calls the shots at Westerburg High and when she commands, the other Heathers – bulimic Heather Duke (Bailey Tyler) and pushover sheep Heather McNamara (Michelle McMillan) – and the fellas snap into action.
With a pompous strut, hands on her hips and a weaponized pony tail, McNeil earns her crown as queen of malevolence in the romping “Candy Store,” encapsulating a truly spoiled bitch who is used to jetting away with her parents and teachers. Well done, Maggie!
Accustomed to bullies like the jerk-off football players Kurt and Ram (testosterone gone wild with Adam Arsi and Ty Rabideau), Veronica is intrigued when a mysterious new loner dressed in black enrolls at Westerburg – J.D., played here by J.V., or Joshua vanderVeen (Christian Slater in the original film).
So much, in fact, she surrenders her hymen in a risque sex scene in “Dead Girl Walking,” and unsuspectingly enlists in a murder spree and stages the deaths as self-induced replete with Veronica-penned suicide letters.
Kassi McMillan’s Veronica is a casting director’s wish fulfilled. Besides looking the part, she brings an acute awareness to the role, as well as sharp timing and one helluva voice, particularly in the chorus of “Seventeen” with vanderVeen.
And lastly, scrunchies off to Savvy Thompson, who delivers a sensitive and honest portrayal of bullied, overweight teenager Martha Dunnstock (aka Martha Dumptruck), Veronica’s childhood friend and object of a cruel, cruel joke. Her “Kindergarten Boyfriend” is perhaps the single most heartbreaking and tender moment in this production.
Make no mistake, this show, cleverly staged by director Christopher Rose, is raunchy and realistic affair. But it’s sure as hell a whole lot of jaw-dropping fun capitalizing on memorable lines and scenes from the film: the Slushee encounter (“Brain Freeze”) and BBQ corn nuts. And my personal favorite line: “F*** me gently with a chain saw.”
And the audience on this evening (many still in or barely out of high school themselves) ate it up – corn nuts, suicide and all!
A couple of minor items did disappoint however, but that’s only because of my familiarity with both the film and musical. While the Heathers do brandish their color-coordinated mallets, they don’t actually play croquet at The Market. And the explosive climax in the musical adaptation is more of a thud and never really builds to the level of tension in the film.
One thing the musical does develop better than the film is the funeral number “My Dead Gay Son”featuring the fathers of the fallen football stars played by a Jonathan Long (who also plays Coach Ripper in tight 1980s running shorts disturbingly stuffed with several gym socks) and Bill Tyler. Remember “There! Right There! (Gay or European)” in Legally Blonde?
Heathers has also been wisely updated since I last saw it (pre-#MeToo), replacing the song “Blue” which trivialized date rape and abuse, shrugging off with the idea that boys will be boys.
Julia Miller returns to the Market as music director for Heathers, Dalton Cole is scenic designer, April Moore designed the colorful costumes, Ashley Bingham is choreographer, Nick Holland is lighting designer and Sean Johnson is stage manager.
Heathers continues through August 4 at The Market Theatre Company, 110 W. Federal St. in Anderson. For tickets, visit themarketanderson.org or call (864) 729-2999.