Arts / Hilarious, heartfelt and homicidal teen show

From left, Madeleine Betts (as Heather Duke), Charlotte Gearside (Heather Chandler), Mikayla Brady (Heather McNamara) and Belle Nicol (Veronica Sawyer). Photo by Janelle McMenamin

PEER-group pressure and gross verbal abuse are the heart of a “deliciously dark” musical about to take the stage at Gungahlin College Theatre. It’s one of those contemporary musicals that’s based on a cult movie, in this case Daniel Waters’ 1989 film “Heathers” starring Winona Ryder, who plays schoolgirl Veronica, who joins the in-crowd on campus and finds herself in the middle of a murder spree. According to the producer of Dramatic Productions, Richard Block, it’s spot-on for 2018, an era when cyber-bullying and other acts of shaming destroying the lives of high school students. With clever music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, Block and musical director Matt Webster feel it’s bound to be a hit with young people in Canberra and they’ve had no trouble engaging bright, new talent. Block is standing back for a while from directing and “Heathers: The Musical” will be staged by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts, who received a Canberra Critics’ Circle award for their 2016 production of “Spring Awakening”.

Will Huang as JD and Belle Nicol as Veronica. Photo by Janelle McMenamin

It may be based on a hit movie, but in Block’s view “theatre has a way of connecting with people, drawing them into an experience, it’s unlike movies; people really get involved in the work… you relate to people in musicals.” Audiences, he says, will understand the theme that bullying has to be confronted and the musical shows will be attractive to the younger generation but, “because it deals with bullying and that plays out in the media these days, it should resonate with every generation”. However,  the show is M-rated and “not suitable for the kiddies”. Notoriously, in “Heathers: The Musical” there is much murder and mayhem. “Heathers” has topics like suicide and murder but it’s light, entertaining and hilarious,” says Block. “It’s in the rock-musical idiom even though it’s about bullying and suicide… it looks bright and Jennie Norberry’s costumes are strikingly colourful.” Veteran Canberra musical star Will Huang will play the murderous JD but they had no trouble casting the various Heathers – there are three of them and, of course, Veronica. “I would be thinking that people will come out of this hopeful and inspired,” Block says. “In this show people learn they can change, the world can be made a better place.” “Heathers: The Musical”, Gungahlin College Theatre, October 12-27. Bookings to stagecenta.com

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