Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: What's the Damage?

When the “risky” musical inspired by an original idea is far and few between, the musical inspired by a movie gets the spotlight. But the challenge is finding the right one to get the theatrical treatment. And when you do find the right one, how you tackle it will determine exactly whether it’ll be “good.” Heathers the Musical has done the impossible: reinvent a cult classic into another cult classic.
For those unfamiliar with the movie, Heathers follows the original mean girls, a clique of gorgeous girls all sharing the name Heather. When outcast Veronica is invited into the group by Queen Bee Heather Chandler, life is set. That is until Veronica makes a lethal mistake at a party. After Heather Chandler threatens to eliminate Veronica from social life, Veronica and her new friend, bad boy J.D., set forth a plan to take down the Heathers. Only JD's plan includes murder. After staging Heather Chandler's murder as suicide, madness ensues including more a change in regime, continual take downs of the popular kids, and suicide becoming an unlikley trend.
As far as musicals inspired by movies, Heathers may be one of the more successful ventures. Writers Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe have honored their source material by perfectly planting the infamous lines from the movie all the while turning up the camp. If they decided to keep the musical like the movie as a super dark comedy, it would have fallen flat and the laughs would have come for all the wrong reasons. Though, by Act II some of the lightness was pushed aside for some darker moments and songs, overall Heathers is campy goodness.
Though the book took a few liberties that didn't seem to quite land, including Martha's grand suicide attempt and the events leading toward the booming climatic ending, Murphy and O’Keefe honored the source material quite nicely. When you have a crowd of cult followers who can recite the lines by heart, when the iconic catch phrases including "what's your damage?" and "fuck me gently with a chainsaw" make their appearances, it stops the show with cheers. And that's ok.
The music also written by the duo found a great balance between 80s and Broadway pop. Despite a few too many slow ballads in Act II, the score kept toe tappers active. With a cast strong in vocal power and ability, the songs were notable. But it was literally the show stopping "My Dead Gay Son" that defined the show. There wanted to be more of those.
As far as the cast is concerned, overall, they were a pretty tight ensemble. Barrett Wilbert Weed is impressive in the fact that not only does she eerily embody Wynonna Ryder, she is able to put her own stamp on Veronica. Weed is a special actress with impressive vocals who knows how to carry the bulk of the show and take a step back to give the Heathers the light. Ryan McCartan takes the good boy baby face of J.D. and still managers to figure out how to creep you out. McCartan is a new breed of leading man. Though his physical presence is a bit more commanding than Christian Slater's J.D. was, his voice is beautiful and the perfect balance to Weed's Veronica. Though they may be the leads, it is called Heathers and they are truly the stars. Jessica Keenan Wynn as Heather Chandler is brilliant, packing in sex and seduction to the original Regina George. You know once she struts on stage, as the living or ghost incarnation of Heather Chandler, she's about to rock the stage with her pure voice or witty tongue. Alice Lee is the epitome of hilarity as Heather Duke. From her first laughable facial expression, you knew she would be the source of some of the bigger laughs. Heather McNamara, played by Elle McLemore, doesn’t quite get the opportunity to take off as much as Wynn and Lee, but she certainly brings a dose of funny with her wide eyes. Though Jon Eidson and Evan Todd look way too old as Ram and Kurt respectively, they embody the bafoony douchebags.
Though there are logical difficulties to consider, tiny details left out did have a larger effect on the sense of theatricality. By not showing the vomit or any blood, the moments lacked the bigger laughs they desired. When the overall direction by Andy Fickman is very stagey, the littliest details look like a mistake or a thought that was completely passed over. What scenic designer Timothy R. Mackabee and lighting designer Jason Lyons do to Heathers is add color. For a movie that only featured color pops in the outfits by the title characters, adding the colorful pallet was a strong choice to confirm the camp nature of the production. However Mackabee’s presentational set was too “use your imagination to see the school”.  
Heathers is the original "Mean Girls" for a reason. Sticking to its roots and knowing exactly what this musical wanted to be makes Heathers a hit. Cross your fingers that these shoulder pads will be around for a long time.