Review: Heathers the Musical at How Do You Like Me Now Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
***NOTE: Heathers the Musical at How Do You Like Me Now Productions ended its run on Sunday, October 29***
To ask the age old question of the wisest men… What’s your damage?! Well, How Do You Like Me Now (HDYLMN) Productions, in association with Erase the Hate Through Art, is trying to answer that question with their most recent production of Heathers the Musical with Book, Music, & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, Directed by Ed Higgins, Music Direction by Andrew Zile, and Choreography by Kristen Rigsby. Based on a quirky film from 1989 of the same name (minus the Musical) Heathers the Musical takes us through a journey of popularity, the repercussions of that popularity, teen angst, and all those crazy things and ups and downs that happen during our teenage years.
In a nutshell, Heathers the Musical is about Veronica Sawyer, a teen outcast turned popular kid who hooks up with the most popular kids in school, the Heathers, and learns that being at the top isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Enter Jason Dean (JD) an angsty, trench coat wearing, dark and brooding new kid who shows Veronica there’s more than one way to stop the bullies from bullying.


(l-r) Ellie Parks, Bryce Gudelsky, and Emily Wesselhoff. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

The Studio Theatre at Chesapeake Center for the Arts is a great space to see a show, it’s not too big and not too small, especially for a show like Heathers the Musical. Set/Technical Design by Josh Anderson is completely minimal with no real set to speak of, but his use of projections is clever and the set pieces are well thought-out and chosen wisely. Some of the scene transitions are a bit lengthy and clunky, but the crew gets the job done and are ready when the lights come up.
Costume Design by Grant Myers is on point for this production. It’s always fun to see the style of a bygone era and the 80s were a doozy! You never knew what you were going to see in the halls of a high school and everything was always so unique, even within cliques. One hiccup might be the repeated mention of JD’s trench coat but… no trench coat. Regardless, it’s a great design and Myers’ attention to detail is admirable and authentic, adding great value to this piece.
It’s worth saying that Choreography by Kristen Rigsby is certainly a highlight of this production. Every group number has variety, is well rehearsed, and tight making for some delightful moments. Rigsby seems to know her cast and the choreography emphasizes their strengths making every number look splendid. Her instincts to match her dances to the music are remarkable and the cast seems to be having a great time performing her choreography. Kudos to Rigsby for a job well done!

Luis Mentes and Olivia Winter. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Music Director Andrew Zile should be commended for his work on this piece as he had his cast in harmony and singing strong. At no fault of Zile’s I wish I could have heard more of his work but, since the cast isn’t amplified with microphones and there is practically a full orchestra, I strained to hear the singers through much of the production. Speaking of the orchestra, there are many consisting of Andrew Zile as Conductor/Synthesizer, W. William Zellhoffer on Piano, Eric Allard on Violin, Ian Lyons on Reeds, Steven Bailey on Trumpet, David Kistler on Guitar, Kevin Jones on Bass, and Winfield Clasing on Drums, but they sound phenomenal! They are tight and spot on in every number. There are a few hiccups with pitch and timing but, overall, Zile has a great grasp of the score and guides this cast nicely.
Ed Higgins takes the reigns of this production and he does seem to have a good comprehension of the text and story and, though his space has its limitations, there are some curious choices for scene settings, such as the corner of the theatre where, depending on where you are sitting, you can’t see or hear much of what’s going on. He has assembled a good cast and they have a fantastic chemistry that is clear throughout the production. The quirkiness required of this piece wasn’t as apparent as it should have been, but it is a well put-together production that gives an enjoyable evening of theatre.
Concerning the performance of this piece, this ensemble is strong and committed. All in the ensemble give a praiseworthy performance and should be applauded.

(l-r) Michael Leard and Zach Husak. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelley are played by Zach Husak and Michael Leard, respectively and give a hilarious portrayal of stereotypical jocks of the school. Their comedic timing is near perfect and they play well off each other. Vocally, they don’t give the strongest showing, especially with the higher register in the songs and lean more on the comedy of the absurd but, overall, give humorous, strong performances.
In this particular performance, Veronica Sawyer (who is usually portrayed by Olivia Winter) is portrayed by Linda Roby and she gives an admirable performance. As mentioned, no one is amplified with microphones and Roby didn’t project as well as she could have making her hard to hear, at times. Also, some of the songs may have been above her comfortable register as she seems to strain on the high notes, but she seems to understand the character very well and portrays the teenaged angst extremely well.

Luis Mentes and Olivia Winter. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

JD (Jason Dean), the brooding, dark new kid is played by Luis Montes and he gives a strong, confident performances but he seems to have a bit too much urgency than is called for this character who is usually laid back and cool. However, he makes the role his own and makes for a respectable presentation. Vocally, he does well, overall, with a few strains here and there, but nothing that spoils his performance as a whole.
The Heathers, the pinnacle of the Westerberg High School pyramid, are played flawlessly by Bryce Gudelsky as Heather Chandler, Ellie Parks as Heather McNamara, and Emily Wesselhoff as Heather Duke. All three of these ladies have a great chemistry and exude the bitchiness that is The Heathers. Gudelsky embodies Heather Chandler and all her power and wails on her featured number “Candy Store.” All the while Parks, as Heather McNamara, plays the follower near perfectly, portraying an insecurity and need to be accepted through her mannerisms and delivery and can almost bring the audience to tears in her poignant number, “Life Boat.” Last but not least, Wesselhoff as the bottom Heather on the totem pole, Heather Duke, portrays this Heater beautifully.  Her gradual change in position throughout the production is seamless and makes for a strong, poised performance that is to be commended. Vocally, Wesselhoff is a powerhouse and belts out her part in featured numbers such as “Candy Store,” “Big Fun,” and “Shine a Light (Reprise).”

Jim Gross as Ram’s Dad. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

A few highlights include Kristen Demers as Martha Dunstock (Dumptruck), Jim Gross as Ram’s Dad, and Jennifer Alexander as Ms. Flemming. All three of these supporting actors give strong and focused performances that are definitely worth mentioning. Jim Gross (who also plays the lurking Coach), gives a side-tickling performance as Ram’s Dad, confidently belting out his featured, gospel-inspired number, “My Dead Gay Son,” while Jennifer Alexander does the same, impeccably belting out her inspiring featured number, “Shine a Light.”

Kristen Demers as Martha Dunstock. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Kristen Demers tackles the role of Martha Dunstock, or Dumptruck, as the other kids call her, who is kind of the embodiment of all the outcasts and bullied kids at school. Her portrayal is funny, moving, and spot on, making the audience feel for her from the start. Demers is not afraid of the role and makes it her own, making for a strong, meaningful performance. Vocally, she starts out strong in her featured number, “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” but loses a bit of steam toward the end of the song. She does act out the song like a champ, but at the sacrifice of the music. Regardless, her performance is spot on and leaves a lasting impression.
Final thought…Heathers the Musical is a great piece of theatre when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Director Ed Higgins states it was chosen as it goes along with the mission of HDYLMN Productions to start a dialogue about bullying and suicide, which this piece presents humorously, but with a serious message. I can tell HDYLMN Productions are apt and able to put on some great shows but, though this production yields some very good qualities, overall, it falls a little flat whether it be because of sound issues, pacing, or directorial choices. The performances, for the most part, are commendable, the choreography is an absolute joy to watch, and the cast seems to be having a great time, giving 100% effort and dedication. That’s not to say this isn’t a good show, because it certainly is, but I’m looking forward to seeing what HDYLMN Productions can really do!
This is what I thought of How Do You Like Me Now’s production of Heathers the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Heathers the Musical has ENDED its run but played through October 29 at How Do You Like Me Now Productions in the Black Box Theatre space of The Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park, MD.
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Review: Heathers: The Musical at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Get crucial, already! Not to put a limit on an audience, but if you are a child of the 80s and even 90s (though you may be older or younger), you are probably familiar with Heathers, the iconic dark comedy 1989 film starring ever-emo Wynonna Ryder and Christian Slater. If you are not familiar with this film stop whatever you are doing (after you read this article) and find this film somewhere! It needs to be on someone’s list of “movies to see before you die”! In the meantime, the current offering from our friends at Red Branch Theatre Company is Heathers: The Musical, Directed by Amelia Acosta Powell, with Music Direction by John C. Henderson, Choreography by Brandon Glass, Set Design by Cliff Hannon, Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin, and Costume Design by Cierra Coan. If you’re looking for some nostalgia and want to be transported back to that radically awesome year of 1989, Red Branch Theatre Company is the place to be for the next couple of weekends!

(l-r) Megan Bunn as Heather Duke, Tiara Whaley as Heather Chandler, Geocel Batista as Heather McNamara - "Candy Store" Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

(l-r) Megan Bunn as Heather Duke, Tiara Whaley as Heather Chandler, Geocel Batista as Heather McNamara – “Candy Store” Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Anyone who’s been to high school knows them they go by different names and have different styles but every school has a group of Heathers – The most popular, powerful kids in school that every loves, hates, or loves to hate. On the surface their lives are perfect, their clothes are perfect, their hair is perfect, and their time in high school is perfect… but is it? Heathers: The Musical takes musical, funny, dark a peek into high school popularity, being an outcast, self-confidence or lack of, and just being a teenager trying to navigate through all of it and, in this case, there’s a body count!
Walking into Red Branch, I could tell the audience was energized and excited as a buzz of excitement filled the air and there were even a few dedicated patrons who dressed the parts in the Heathers colors of red, yellow, and green. I was quite impressed with the intimate theatre that seats about 120 folks, give or take a patron, and the simple, yet very appropriate set by Cliff Hannon. The very blue unit set is simple, yet complex as there are no permanent set pieces cluttering the stage but the various levels work nicely with the action that goes on in the production. Various and clever entrances and exits on both sides of the stage keep the movement very fluid and interesting with characters popping in and out all over the stage. Hannon manages to create an exciting unit set without filling his stage up with too many distractions and still be very pleasing to the eye. As any of the Heathers would say, “It’s very!”
To complement the set design, Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin does an outstanding job creating the perfect tone, adding value to the performance with just the right amount of color, brightness, and darkness. As this piece is a dark comedy, lighting is very important and can make or break each scene but Joslin’s light design is well thought-out and manages to set the proper mood for each scene and moves the action along pleasantly.
Taylor Witt as Kurt Kelly and Tendo Nsubuga as Ram Sweeney lead the ensemble in "Big Fun" Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Taylor Witt as Kurt Kelly and Tendo Nsubuga as Ram Sweeney lead the ensemble in “Big Fun” Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

I can only imagine that costuming a period 1980s piece can be a challenge and quite fun at the same time and Costume Design by Cierra Coan is absolutely spot on and very well thought-out! Her challenge was the fact that the style of this piece was late 80s with the early 90s sneaking in but the colorful, tucked in long sleeve shirts on the guys to the women blazers that are more shoulder pads than anything else take the audience back to a 1989 high school hallway and it is glorious. Coan gives each actor his or her own “look” and, since one of the themes of this piece is “fitting in” giving the piece authenticity and nostalgia adding great production value.
I was hesitant when, a few years back, I’d heard that one of my favorite films was being made into a musical. I’d listened to a few tunes from this piece but I couldn’t imagine my Heathers (and Veronica) singing and dancing their way through their days in the halls of Westerburg High. However, Music Director John C. Henderson had them doing just that… with gusto! Many individual voices in this production are phenomenal but as a cast they are hands down awesome! The harmonies are on point, the diction is superb, the balance is just right, and the power from the ensemble numbers feels like a cast full of Ethel Mermans onstage! The vocal abilities of this cast as a whole is worth the ticket price alone! Kudos to Henderson’s ability to pull this cast together, vocally, for a brilliant performance.
Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. - "Our Love is God" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. – “Our Love is God” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Along with song, you’ve got to have dance and it’s just another aspect of this production that was a joy to watch. Choreographer Brandon Glass’s choreography was absolutely entertaining to watch and was appropriate for the space. His stylish and complex dances made the cast look great and it looks as though the cast is having a blast performing the choreography, which is always good when the audience can see the joy in the faces of the cast. The dancing was tight and precise and each number was a pleasure to watch.
Director Amelia Acosta Powell is to be commended for her work with Heathers: The Musical. Her casting choices are magnificent and it’s great to see the diversity of the cast and how it works so very well for this piece. She uses her space very wisely with fluid and purposeful blocking, using the entire theatre with entrances and exits from the side and back of the theatre as well as the entrances and exits onstage. She seems to have understood the 1989 film and its themes of teenaged angst, the need to belong, self-confidence, and coming-of-age and transferred it beautifully to the stage in this production. Her minimal use of props and portable set pieces worked nicely, keeping the stage free of clutter but still helping tell the story. Her directing choices were near perfect and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Ms. Powell.
Hands down, the highlight of this production is the entire cast. It’d be difficult to pick out one individual performer to single out because the entire ensemble is phenomenal. Each group number such as “Beautiful,” “Big Fun,” and “Shine a Light” spotlighted the talent in this cast and how well they all worked together as a whole. I found myself excited for the next group number after one was over. Definite props to the Director, Music Director, and Choreographer for molding this cast into a cohesive unit that entertained and look like they are giving 100% to every aspect of this production.
The titular roles of the very different Heathers are played exquisitely by Tiara Whaley (Heather Chandler, the Queen Bee of Westerburg), Geocel Batista (Heather MacNamara, the follower but arguably the nicest of the Heathers), and Megan Bunn (Heather Duke, the possible 2nd in command and waiting for her chance to take over). These young ladies take these characters and hit the ground running, making them their own. They’re body language, tone, and look bring the Heathers to life brilliantly and they are an absolute joy to watch individually and as a trio.
Tiara Whaley, as Heather Chandler takes no prisoners and oozes the popularity that everyone envied in high school. Her numbers such as “Candy Store” and “Very” are energized and, though she seems to reach for her high notes, at times, are powerhouse performances.
Geocel Batista, as Heather MacNamara, is a delight to watch throughout the production as she doesn’t lose character once. The joy in her face is apparent throughout each number and her understanding of the character and how she would react to situations is clear, such as the poignancy that comes through in her solo “Lifeboat,” and she is an asset to any number she is in with her vocal and dance abilities.
Megan Bunn as the ever faithful yet cunning character of Heather Duke has the most prevalent change in the show and she pulls it off flawlessly. That change is precise and clear but seamless. She too is a powerhouse and rounds out the trio of Heathers brilliantly.
Vivian Cook as Veronic Sawyer (foreground) "Beautiful" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Vivian Cook as Veronic Sawyer (foreground) “Beautiful” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Veronica, the hesitant, yet thankful “geek” who managed to become a part of the Heathers is played by Vivian Cook and she tackles this role without a flaw or hesitation. From the moment she steps on stage in the opening number “Beautiful” she commands the stage and is very comfortable taking the reins of this production. Her character is spot on with the familiar film rendition but she also makes it her own bringing a refreshing look to Veronica. Cook is an accomplished vocalist and the numbers in which she takes the lead makes one stand up and take notice. Her comfort on stage is apparent especially with the very risqué and PG-13 (at least) number “Dead Girl Walking” which is captivating. Cook carries this production, with the help of the brilliant ensemble, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her in the future.
(l-r) Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer, Hasani Allen as J.D. - "Freeze Your Brain" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

(l-r) Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer, Hasani Allen as J.D. – “Freeze Your Brain” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Side by side with Cook is Hasani Allen, who plays JD, the twisted, Jesse James-esque, brooding teenaged love interest of Veronica, plays the role confidently and intensely with a pronounced command of the stage and he’s hard not to watch when he’s on. Like Vivian Cook, he too plays his character very similar to the Christian Slater version of JD, but with his own flair that brings a freshness to the role that’s fun to watch. He is passion is crystal clear in his portrayal of his extreme character and adds depth to already flawless performance. His vocal numbers such as “Prom or Hell” and “Meant to be Yours” has him reaching for the higher notes, but his intensity in his performance certainly makes up for one or two missed notes. Overall, his performance is superb.
Tendo Nsubuga, Tiara Whaley, and Taylor Witt (left cluster), Amy Williamson as Martha and Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Tendo Nsubuga, Tiara Whaley, and Taylor Witt (left cluster), Amy Williamson as Martha and Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Amy Williamson, as the ultimate outcast Martha Dunstock (a.k.a. Martha Dumptruck) gives an emotional, heartfelt performance in her number “Kindergarten Boyfriend”, as she reminisces of times past when everyone were friends. Taylor Witt as Kurt and Tendo Nsubuga as Ram, the bumbling, uber-jock football players bring a perfect comedic timing to their characters and a male teenage honesty with their fun and unashamed number “Blue.”
Rounding out a couple of the featured adult characters are Amanda Spellman, who plays Ms. Fleming, the hippie teacher hailing from Berkley and Wil Lewis, III, who takes on the role of Ram’s Dad. Spellman is hilarious as the whispy seemingly flaky teacher trying to bring everyone together to share their feelings and she shines taking the lead in the ensemble number “Shine a Light”. As one of the few adult characters in this piece, Spellman is a standout. Wil Lewis, III, too is a highlight as one of the adult characters as Ram’s Dad, explaining how he loves his son no matter what in the uplifting, funny “My Dead Gay Son.”
Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. "Our Love is God" Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Vivian Cook as Veronica Sawyer and Hasani Allen as J.D. “Our Love is God” Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Final thought… Heathers: The Musical is a fun well-produced show with a dedicated and talented ensemble. If you are familiar with the original film, you will not be disappointed and if you are not familiar with it, you will be delighted to learn about what the kids at Westerburg High School are up to. The music is upbeat and fresh and the message of acceptance and the consequences for intolerance is timeless. You don’t want to miss this production of Heathers: The Musical!
This is what I thought of this production of Heathers: The Musical.… what do you think?

Heathers:The Musical will play through August 27, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, and select Saturdays at 2pm at Drama Learning Center, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD 21045. For tickets, call 410-997-9352 or purchase them online.