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.
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!
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.
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.
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).”
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 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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