Student-Run Production of "Heathers: the Musical" Brings Popular Movie to the Stage
By Maura Kolhonen '18 | Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Maura Kolhonen '18
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
March 7, 8, and 9, the UMass Theatre Guild presented Heathers: the Musical in Bowker Auditorium. Based off the 1989 cult-classic film Heathers starring Winona Ryder, Heathers: the Musical follows outsider Veronica Sawyer as she navigates her way through her senior year at Westerberg High. After being accepted into the mighty Heathers clique, Veronica realizes that popularity comes with a price. Set on revenge, Veronica and her mysterious romantic interest JD decide to change the destructive hierarchy at Westerberg High once and for all.
Director Brian Belleville ‘18, a management major, was a fan of the movie before directing the musical with the UMass Theatre Guild. He believes that “the musical carefully illustrates all of the major plot lines and themes” while maintaining “the integrity of the characters” from the film. Separating itself from Heathers the movie, Belleville expressed that Heathers: the Musical “definitely has its own vibe and portrays some of the characters differently.” However, he assures fans of the cult classic, “You will recognize many of the famous lines from the movie, or you might hear them in a song.” Belleville conveyed that he and his rehearsal team tried to keep the Guild’s production true to the Off-Broadway version, while “incorporating [their] own elements,” for example, a movement element in the song “Dead Girl Walking.”
On the rehearsal process, Belleville explained, “We really wanted the cast to have deep understanding in their character as this musical has sensitive themes.” Isabelle Marseille ‘20, an English major, played Heather Duke in the production. She expressed that character work during rehearsals was “very helpful for [the cast] to really understand and fully commit to our characters.” Greg Ford ‘20, a psychology and theater major who played Hipster Dork/Officer McCord, explained, “This process has been unique because of the content of this show. It’s truly unlike any other. Being in the ensemble, we are often used as a tool to depict what is normal in the environment of this world that Heathers: the Musical takes place in, so we have to react to things extremely differently than how anyone normally would. We treat the Heathers like celebrities, we are more than complacent in the school’s very rigid totem pole of hierarchy, and we are ruthless, but it makes for a good story.”
As a disclaimer, the UMass Theatre Guild’s program for Heathers: the Musical contained a warning, stating that “This show contains use of strobe lights as well as sensitive thematic elements including topics of sexual harassment, abusive relationships, suicide, homicide, eating disorders, bullying, gun violence, etc. If you are uncomfortable at any time throughout the show, we encourage you to step into the lobby as needed.”
Dealing with mature themes, Heathers: the Musical was a “challenging experience” for Belleville. He wanted to keep the “integrity of the original show, while making sure everyone was comfortable.” Overall, he feels the cast “has done phenomenal with the mature themes in the show,” and credits dramaturg Helen Woods ‘18 with creating a “safe environment for everyone involved” by holding “discussions with the cast to talk about the themes openly.” Additionally, Belleville noted how Erin Hamilton ’18, the production’s intimacy choreographer, “has done well in helping the actors understand the importance of treating [intimate/intense] scenes with care.” He said, he “couldn’t have asked for a better team to help make the cast as comfortable as possible with so many mature themes.”
Amidst the serious content, the cast and and crew had fun putting the show together. Nicki McLaughlin ‘18, a sociology major, expressed, “It has been a blast getting to play Heather Chandler.” She “loved getting to know the cast and crew,” expressing that “Everyone put their all into this production, making the process so uplifting.” With a little over a month and a half of rehearsals, McLaughlin said it was “incredible to see all the effort from the artistic team, rehearsal team, and cast to make the short process go smoothly.” As a musical, Ford expressed that the show is “vocally challenging” but he feels the cast has handled it “extremely well.” Marseille noted the “detailed harmonies” and said that she has “enjoyed” the learning process.
Overall, Belleville shared that Heathers: the Musical contains “valuable themes,” such as “resilience,” that appeal to a wide audience.
Belleville expressed, “I really hope that audiences take away that no matter who someone is, they are human and have their own issues and these issues are important. Even though someone might have been popular in high school, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have their own share of issues. Understanding that everyone has their own struggles really puts into perspective that we all are human; no one is perfect. I hope that people understand that life can truly be ‘Beautiful.’”