Twin Cities Community Theatre: “Heathers: The Musical”

A rock and roll twist to the ‘80s cult favorite

Artwork by Ruby Guthrie

Artwork by Ruby Guthrie

“I’ll ride you ‘til I break you,” sex scene, one. Times a joint was passed around, also one. Characterizing vomit scenes, two. Body count, three and a half. Profanity, glaring sexual innuendos, and politically incorrect jokes and gibes, more than I can count. I sat in the small, intimate auditorium of the Sabes Jewish Community Center, a giddy, yet slightly appalled smile plastered to my face. I am so glad I didn’t bring my mom.

“The extreme always seems to make an impression,” the charmingly psychopathic J.D. cooed with a crooked smile. More than 25 years ago, Michael Lehmann’s film “Heathers”, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, started a cult. While the film is often thrown into the pile of high school mean girl chick flicks (think “Mean Girls” and “Clueless”), “Heathers” proves to be a far more fascinating concoction. “Heathers” indeed features a group of mythic mean girls all named Heather and a nostalgic ‘80s aesthetic stapled with shoulder pads, hairspray, and 7-Eleven Slurpees. However, the film’s snappy dialogue, infamous one-liners, and bright visuals almost clashes with its dark, almost inappropriately comedic approach to serious issues. Bulimia, teen drinking, date rape, and inevitable adult mediocrity are just a few drops in the bucket, but perhaps the most notorious element is the way “Heathers” glorifies teenage suicide. The jaded Veronica (Rider) and the rebellious J.D. (Slater) go on a romanticized vendetta, offing all the popular kids who have humiliated them. The Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque duo disguises the murders as suicides. Suicide suddenly is commonplace and artful. The student body all but glorifies them, the adults all but sensationalize them. J.D. is a wonderfully heartless anti-hero that uses toxic love (“Our love is god,” he loftily declares, swinging his very-real gun around) to justify and teenage conformity to execute his plans.

Despite some plot alterations, the musical attempts to adhere to the film’s original purpose. In many ways, it did. Many of the most well-known quotes made a cameo, and the characters largely stayed true. However, one noticeable difference was the oddly optimistic approach the musical adopted. The social and political commentary lighter on the tongue and easier to swallow and the musical numbers were comedic, featuring a song about blue balls and another about Slurpee brain freezes. The lyrics were frustratingly catchy, but they were not written without inherent cleverness embedded in the lines. However, while the musical, as a standalone was absolutely fresh, visually pleasing with its bright colors and stark set and hilarious in an off-putting and dry way, a viewer with any exposure to the film may feel like it lost a touch of its luster and power. Most notably: instead of being terrifying and destructive to watch, Veronica and J.D., with their romantic ballads, felt like star-crossed lovers who accidentally strayed onto a wrong, vengeful path. Musical-Veronica lost film-Veronica’s icy reactions, and musical-J.D. was almost relatable. The duo was portrayed more so as lost than vindictive, and the concept of redemption ran heavily through the adaptation.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. “Heathers” is quirky and innovative, with each scene, verse, and word throws a viewer in for a loop. It loses some of the dynamism from its predecessor, but nonetheless I’ll be belting the soundtrack for months to come.
Check out the Twin Cities Community Theatre website for more upcoming shows and auditions!