SALT LAKE CITY — True to the darker vibes of the original 1988 film, Heathers: The Musical remained just on the edge of funny and devastating.
The plot follows the story of wannabe popular girl Veronica, as she uses her talents of forgery to finesse her way into the upper echelons of high school royalty. Once within their regal ranks, however, she quickly discovers The Heathers aren’t as glamorous as they seem to be. Power hungry Heather Chandler seems to control everyone at the high school and her bossy (and bitchy) personality puts her at odds with Veronica—especially when her old friend Martha becomes the butt of a joke. Veronica stands up to Heather Chandler at the cost of being ostracized and having her social life ruined, and quickly shows up the next morning to beg for forgiveness. However, Veronica’s made a new friend by this point—JD, a slightly sociopathic boy, complete with trench coat and dead eyes. He encourages Veronica to kill Heather Chandler. Though she refuses to do so, a sleight of hand maneuver by JD ends with Heather Chandler dead on the floor. Rather than to take the blame, he encourages Veronica to forge a note and turn the accidental murder into a suicide. It’s a slippery slope from there, multiple murders ensuing as Veronica becomes more disenchanted with her serial killing boyfriend, culminating in a bang.
I enjoyed how authentic to the original tone of the film this production from the Utah Repertory Theater Company felt. There was almost a campy nature to the overall aesthetic, and paired with the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, felt appropriately dark. Characterization relied on a less grounded, more stereotypical feel—but I felt it worked more with this production. Delving too deeply into the emotional ramifications involved might have easily sombered the already dark production, so the levity in performance kept things enjoyable. Karli Rose Lowry, as Veronica Sawyer, absolutely stole the show for me. Her voice exceeded the demands of a challenging vocal score (by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy), and she appropriately navigated the line between savvy and sappy with ease. Her time on stage with Derek Gregorson, as JD, felt authentic and their chemistry (and her later repulsion) made the show.
Other favorites were Dan Ogden as Ram Sweeney, and Blake Yelavich in his multiple roles. Both brought an arrogant swagger to their performances, Yelavich particularly deft as he slipped through the nuances of the roles and made every moment on stage enjoyable. I enjoyed Yelavich’s rendition (as Ram’s dad) of “My Dead Gay Son,” with Jeffrey Owen as Kurt’s dad. The pair approached the song with gusto, with the result perhaps the highlight of the show. Also of note were “Candy Store” and “Dead Girl Walking” because of how well the ensemble performed cohesively and elevated the level of the show. Group choreography (by Michael Hernandez) was a strength throughout, but particularly enjoyable for “Candy Store.”
While the human element of this show meshed very well for me, technical elements proved an overall distraction to the performance. My biggest qualm was with the director Johnny Hebda‘s use of projections. There didn’t seem to be a cohesive convention behind the use of them in the show. At times, the screen showed locations within the play, other times it showed semi-related imaged to what the actors were singing about, and at other times with the screen showed images that the actors filmed. The incoherent use of projections was distracting from the performance, and I found myself watching the screen more than the actors. Additionally, the visible band behind the actors made sight lines strange, and while I did like the live music, it was strange to have the illusion of the set broken so easily. There were conventions used by the actors to establish an invisible wall in front of the band, but they were still there, and unfortunately, a distracting backdrop. Additionally, there were some issues with microphone feedback throughout the performance. I almost wonder, because of the proximity of actors to the audience, if microphones were needed at all.
Technical issues aside, I thought the show went over very well. Heathers: The Musical was definitely a departure from anything that I’ve seen in Utah before, and very much meriting of an R-rating. (Be aware of some heavy content, including swearing, nudity, suicide/murder, and sexual content before attending.) The darker tone and very sarcastic, playful view of such heavy topics made it a fun evening. It’s certainly not a show for everyone. However, I left having enjoyed the show, and would recommend it to theatregoers 18+ that want to see something very fun and very dark.