Originally published in Student Life.
As an avid fan of 1988 dark comedy cult film “Heathers,” I was delighted to see that “Heathers: The Musical” was being brought to life by Washington University’s Cast N’ Crew. But despite the talent of the cast and amazing set construction, the show felt flat.
To be fair, there were many aspects of Cast N’ Crew’s show that I loved. The costuming was spectacular; the set was interesting and unique; the lead actress, senior Katie Greenberg, carried well the unattainable characteristics of Veronica and the attention to some details, such as the liquid put in the bottle for Ram to spit out, was great. The show’s plot adhered reasonably well to the movie, and the lines of the characters paralleled dialogue from the film.
Yet, the performance emphasized sentimentality and closeness to character when a rejection of these values caused most of the movie’s charm. The musical puts a Disney spin on the plot in many aspects: Veronica becomes a victim of bullying searching for moral absolutism. JD becomes the damaged teenager stuck in the childish irresponsibility of when his mother died. The gang leader, Heather, posthumously became the misunderstood girl who cared about enriching the lives of others. These character arches, while perfectly acceptable, pale in comparison to the emotionally complex and ambiguous unravelling that the movie portrays.
Instead of emotional and moral complexity, the performance focused more on the shock factor. Between JD and Veronica having sex on stage, Ram and Kurt going around in tighty-whities, Ram and Kurt’s fathers suddenly revealing and reinstating an affair and a frank depiction of sexual assault, the performance often carried the audience along from one strategic plot point to the other—but in a way that felt more like a gimmick than a sincere flow. The performance alternated between large performance numbers and solo- or few-performer songs with little motion.
And that’s not to say that the performers weren’t talented. Martha’s voice was smooth and lovely in “Kindergarten Boyfriend” and all the renditions of “Dead Girl Walking” were wonderful. These great attributes were sometimes paired with either stagnant stage directions or a too-loud pit or ensemble that obscured the main lyrics. The most surprising fault in the show was a lack of consideration of audience perspective. In the Village Black Box, there is a large pole in the middle of the audience that obscures one or two people if they are on an extreme side of the stage; yet, often one character would stand just in my blind spot. The height of the audiences in a shallow gallery also makes scenes on the ground impossible to see for anyone not in the first row. Yet, some important parts, including over a minute of JD and Veronica talking, were on the floor, obscured by the first row.
Though I commend Cast N’ Crew for an ambitious choice and the cast for their talent, I left the Black Box with a feeling that I had gotten an abridged version of “Heathers,” an oversimplification of complex characters and overemphasis on provoking reactions, with swear words or graphic depictions of sexuality. While the performance’s plot paralleled the movie as well as most movie to musical adaptations do, it lacked a rebellion, a feel of counterculture and instability and unpredictability that the film embodied.