Based on the 1988 cult film Heathers, Veronica is a spunky teenager just trying to make it through high school but she’s also friends with the popular and pathologically cruel group of girls, The Heathers. Enter a brooding bad boy with a taste for revenge and soon Veronica’s world is spiralling out of control.
This is the Canadian premiere of this sassy but dark musical based on the cult classic by the writers of hits like Legally Blonde: The Musical and Bring it On: The Musical. Slowly with a Chainsaw Artists’ Collective presents this spunky off-Broadway hit at the York Theatre until January 17.
Unfortunately, many aspects of this production fell short, starting with David C. Jones’ direction. It seemed incredibly misguided, a lot of staging just didn’t make any sense and blocked the main action of the scenes. This made the cast of mostly talented performers look rather unnatural and like they were second guessing themselves. The show is meant to be a dark comedy and only the comedy was highlighted, which could be due to a lack of understanding of the script.
The choreography by Ken Overbey was fun but was a little out of place at times, likely due to the small stage space that the York Theatre provides. There just seemed to be too many ensemble members participating in numbers at times when it wasn’t necessary which made the movement come across as somewhat chaotic. The one number that stood out was “candy store” performed by the Heathers trio (Synthia Yusuf, Devon Busswood and Nhi Do). The choreography for this song was crisp, inventive and very well executed.
The set was clunky and amateur. It consisted of oddly shaped and poorly painted blocks reminiscent of a high school production. This made the scene changes distractingly long, sometimes even cutting into important plot points that really shouldn’t have been interrupted.
The technical issues were glaring. From the very top of the show, mics cut in and out with lots of feedback. Lighting seemed delayed at times and costume changes were often poorly timed, which meant people entered with obvious pieces missing like shirt and shoes. The costuming was true to the movie and set the era well, adding atmosphere to make up for the poor set. The one critique I have is the overuse and misuse of wigs when they weren’t necessary.
Thankfully, the power of the leads made up for the lacking elements of the production. Christine Quintana was perfect as the cynical but full of life ‘Veronica’. Her voice suits the role like a glove, with her soaring riffs and emotionally charged ballads. Her interpretation of “Dead Girl Walking” had the audience at the edge of their seats. Kamyar Pazandeh as J.D. has a beautiful voice but some of his acting choices seemed a bit tentative.
Synthia Yusuf leads the Heathers with great comedic timing, powerhouse vocals, and a sexy swagger that no one could resist. Devon Busswood sang a gorgeous rendition of “Life Boat” that was both harrowing and inspiring. Unfortunately the third Heather, played by Nhi do, falls short in comparison to her counterparts. She pulls her weight on the acting front but is noticeably lacking in the vocal department.
Steffanie Davis was hilarious and heartbreaking as Martha Dunnstock. Her version of ballad “My kindergarten boyfriend” was gorgeous and a definite highlight of the show. Hal Wesley Rogers and Colin Sheen were hilarious as the sex-crazed two footballers, Ram and Kurt, and it doesn’t hurt that their voices are incredible.
David C. Jones had an admirable goal of casting 53% of the show with non-Caucasians and he definitely succeeded in this respect. It was refreshing to see a stage full of diverse looking individuals which reflects Vancouver’s and Canada’s multiculturalism well, a great addition to the production.
Just as a warning, subject matter is strong in this show. There’s strong language, sexuality, suicide and nudity. There are also gun effects used that may be disturbing to some audience members.
This production of Heathers The Musical is a dark but comedic romp that reflects the classic film well. Whether you’re a fan of the movie or not, you will still enjoy this energetic show with it’s strong-voiced cast despite the fact that some of the other production components fall short.
Heathers the Musical plays until January 17 at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Drive, Vancouver). Tickets start at $30.