Review / Pitch-perfect ‘Heathers’ turn in an exuberant production

Musical theatre / “Heathers – The Musical”. Directed by Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg. At Gungahlin Theatre until October 27. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

Will Huang as JD, Belle Nicol as Veronica in “Heathers”. Photo by Janelle McMenamin

“IT certainly ain’t Mary Poppins,” murmured an audience member at interval. It certainly isn’t. More a cheeky hybrid of “Grease” and “The Rocky Horror Show”, which concerns itself with issues of teenage sex, youth suicide and homosexuality in a manner that some might find confronting and others, refreshing.

Based on a 1989 cult film, “Heathers – The Musical” is set in the fictional Westerberg High where newbie, Veronica Sawyer (Belle Nicol) attracts the attention of the powerful and ruthless school clique, known as The Heathers, because each of the three leaders, played with panache, by Charlotte Gearside, Maddy Betts and Mikayla Brady, is called Heather. She also attracts two obnoxious, sex-absorbed jocks, Ram and Kurt, portrayed with delicious enthusiasm by Pippin Carroll and Pierce Jackson.

Veronica, however, is more interested in a slightly creepy, but intriguing loner-named JD (Will Huang) who, despite his spectacular way of dealing with bullies, comes with considerable baggage and startlingly dark habits.

For their pitch-perfect, exuberant production, directors Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg have drawn excellent performances from their predominantly young cast, who attack the witty dialogue and catchy songs with admirable gusto.

Tight direction, colourful costumes, snappy dance routines and some cleverly staged, slow-motion fight sequences, provide spectacle and enough sugar coating to disguise some of the darker, less-beguiling aspects of the show.

Both Nicol and Huang, in the central roles of Veronica and JD, sing attractively and offer thoughtfully nuanced performances that hold the attention throughout. Similarly, each of the Heathers offer impressively differentiated characterisations while maintaining their strong presence as a team. Several of the cast play multiple roles, but Chelsea Heaney is a stand-out as both the scorned Martha Dunnstock, and the inspirational teacher, Pauline Fleming.

Armed with a repertoire of stylish dance moves, choreographer, Nathan Rutups, has devised a succession of high-energy routines, so polished and in tune with the material, that it’s hard to imagine these songs being done any other way. The cast toss them off with reckless confidence and obvious enjoyment, while still managing to maintain tricky harmonies and, generally, successfully compete with the enthusiasm of Matthew Webster’s sizzling hot on-stage band.

Chris Zuber’s clever floating school-locker setting works like a dream, with set-pieces effortlessly and efficiently manipulated around the stage by the cast, allowing for a seamless transition of scenes. Only the haphazard lighting that, too often on opening night, left crucial cast members shrouded in darkness, disappointed.

With its witty dialogue, catchy songs and exuberant performances, this production of “Heathers – the Musical” lives up to Dramatic Productions’ promise of delivering the highest-quality community theatre to Gungahlin and the Canberra region, and is certainly well worth travelling to Gungahlin to experience.

 

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