Written by Shelby Pendowski
Film director Michael Lehmann dramatized this confused chunk of life in the black-comedy tale of Heathers. The now cult classic 1988 teen flick tells of Westerburg High School students Veronica Sawyer, Jason Dean, Heather Chandler and Heather Duke. The over-the-top plot centers on the “teenage suicide” hysteria that unfolds around a preppy in-group called The Heathers.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the film was adapted to the stage as Heathers: The Musical. By a twist of fate, the Actors’ Theatre acquired the rights for its 2015/16 season — this will be the Great Lakes regional premiere and Michigan premier.
“We actually had something else slated in this time slot but we got a call from the rights company just before we announced the season,” said Kyle Los, Actors’ Theatre managing director. “We quickly made the switch because we are really excited about the show. It’s always exciting when we can get early rights to shows. It says something about the organization.”
The popularity and complexity of this musical drew in actors such as Emily Diener, who was casted as Heather Chandler and Jess Luiz, who portrays Veronica.
“I grew up watching this movie and I always loved it,” Diener said. “When I found out there was a musical about it, I became very obsessed with it and the fact that there was an opportunity to do it close to home is just mind-blowing. I had to be a part of it.”
The musical version further explores the motivation behind the chain of dark, yet witty events. The audience takes the dramatic journey with Veronica as this production breaks the fourth wall and has direct dialogue with the audience, said director Jolene Frankey.
“I think the musical version digs a lot deeper and you get to know the characters’ many layers, more so then you do in the film,” Frankey said. “I think it is a really unique challenge to take such a cult classic and bring it to the stage because you want to honor the crazy, zany moments the audiences have really connected with, as well as bring to life new elements of the script.”
Casting calls for Heathers began in early August and the crew quickly realized this was going to be a unique production.
“This process was different from an Andrew Lloyd Weber type of show where people are usually auditioning with more classical theater-music pieces,” said Scott Bell, the company’s music director. “So in this audition process it wasn’t unusual for us to hear Pat Benatar songs or Green Day. It was definitely a lot more rock oriented which is more or less what the score is like.”