Monday, October 12, 2015

HEATHERS • New Line Theatre

“People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, ‘Now there's a school that self-destructed, not because society didn't care, but because the school was society.”’ That line that J.D. says strikes a core truth in Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s black musical comedy “Heathers,” based on Daniel Waters and Michael Lehmann’s 1988 cult classic film. That sentiment is also a thread that runs through many New Line Theatre productions, so it’s appropriate that New Line begins its 25th anniversary season with this surprising new musical. It’s also pretty cool that they open in a sweet new theatre space it can permanently call home -- the Marcelle in Grand Center.

The most popular clique in Westerburg high school revolves around a fearsome trio of Heathers -- Heather Chandler (Sicily Mathenia), Heather Duke (Cameisha Cotton) and Heather McNamara (Larissa White). The Heathers, along with a couple of meathead jocks, Ram (Omega Jones) and Kurt (Clayton Humburg), revel in their vicious exhibitions of supremacy, and are willing to humiliate anyone who isn’t popular enough to have a place within their orbit.
(l-r) Larissa White (Heather McNamara),
Cameisha Cotton (Heather Duke )
and Anna Skidis (Veronica).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Veronica (Anna Skidis), having gained entry into the inner-circle due to her hall pass forgery skills, enjoys the prestige but despises the way others in school are treated, primarily one of her oldest, best friends, Martha Dunnstock (Grace Seidel). Then Veronica falls for J.D. (Evan Fornachon), a leather-clad new student who also has a menacing hatred for high school nobility, and puts a major beat-down on the jocks on his first day. The Heathers don’t approve of her new beau, but Veronica is already half past give-a-shit, and J.D. is determined to teach the members of the in-crowd a permanent lesson by offing them and making it look like suicide.

In the 25-plus years since the film hit the screens, bullying, school shootings and teen suicides have spent their fair share of time in the spotlight of television news cameras, but the mix of memorable songs and insightful nods puts a comfortable distance between the cruelties of high school and the audience. I was curious about the way this story would play out in the midst of a few recent mass-shootings. It didn’t matter. If anything, it made this musical more relevant than ever.

Evan Fornachon (J.D.).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The detailed direction of Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy keeps the pace and the staging animated and engaging, and the acting and singing chops of Skidis, who carries much of the show, are on glorious display as Veronica. Fornachon’s unhinged disposition as J.D. comes through his performance and his strong vocals that can be coarse and tender at the same time. Their voices blend impressively in "Our Love Is God” and “Seventeen.” Mathenia as the “HHIC” (Head Heather in Charge) -- Heather Chandler, never drops her air of perfect nastiness, even after she’s been offed. White’s Heather McNamara bubbles with lighthearted snark, but her performance nicely informs that she’s dealing with more than she lets on, exemplified in her excellent number, “Lifeboat.” Cotton’s Heather Duke is totally down for taking over the red scrunchie of power with aloof dominance once there’s a void, and Humburg and Jones turn in great performances as neanderthal jocks, Kurt and Ram, in “Blue,” along with Cotton and White (and yes, the song is about blue balls). Seidel, as Veronica’s abandoned, heartbroken and persecuted best friend Martha, practically stops the show with a powerfully poignant “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” and Lindsey Jones also does great work as Ms. Fleming, a hippie teacher who just wants the students to get in touch with their feelings in “Shine a Light,” while also capitalizing on the tv opportunity the tragedies have afforded.

(l-r) Cameisha Cotton (Heather Duke),
Sicily Mathenia (Heather Chandler)
and Larissa White (Heather McNamara).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Rob Lippert is responsible for the show’s scenic design, as well as the wonderful design for the Marcelle’s black-box space, and Sarah Porter’s 1980’s costume design sets the time and a huge array of individual characters handsomely. Jeffrey Richard Carter’s musical direction keeps the band tight and right, and Robin Michelle Berger punctuates the show with exciting choreography.

From the 80’s tunes that set the mood when you walk in, right up until the end, New Line’s anniversary kicks off with what they do best -- providing hilarious, daring, sometimes unsettling, but always unflinching, insightful looks at the world we live in, and those on the fringes. Go see it.

Grace Seidel (Martha Dunnstock).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg


Book/lyrics/music by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy 
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
through October 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Veronica Sawyer: Anna Skidis
 J.D.: Evan Fornachon
Heather Chandler: Sicily Mathenia
Heather Duke: Cameisha Cotton
Lindsey Jones (Ms. Fleming) and the “Heathers” company.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Heather McNamara: Larissa White
Martha Dunnstock: Grace Seidel
Ram Sweeney: Omega Jones
Kurt Kelly: Clayton Humburg
Young Republicanette: Brenda Bass
Preppy Stud: Kevin Corpuz
Hipster Dork: Colin Dowd
Beleaguered Geek: Alex Glow
Kurt’s Dad/Veronica’s Dad/Principal Gowan: Joel Hackbarth
Ms. Fleming/Veronica’s Mom: Lindsey Jones
Ram’s Dad/Big Bud Dean/Coach Ripper: Chris Kernan
Stoner Chick: Victoria Valentine

Clayton Humburg (Kurt) and Omega Jones (Ram).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Directing Intern: Jeremy Hyatt
Music Director: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Choreographer: Robin Michelle Berger
Stage Manager, Lighting Technician: Gabe Taylor
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master, Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Scenic Artists: Kathleen Dwyer, Melanie Kozak, Gary Karasek and Kate Wilkerson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Sue Goldford
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Bass: Andrew Gurney
Violin: Twinda Murry
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Reeds: Harrison Rich
Trumpet: Patrick Swan

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