‘Heathers: The Musical’ is so very


Alexis Bondch

OB Playhouse’s “Heather’s: The Musical” characters (from left to right): Martha Dunnstock, Heather M., Heather C., and Heather D.

Alexis Bondch, Staff Writer

As mental health awareness month draws to a close, and we surf forward into pride month, the OB Playhouse has the perfect offering on its marquee for the next several weekends.

Heathers: The Musical, written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, originally ran Off-Broadway in 2014, was moved to Off-West End for a run in 2018, finished with a short engagement on the West End, and is now making a regional appearance, presented by Wildsong Productions, at the OB Playhouse, where the mission is to make musical theater accessible to everyone. 

The musical is based on the 1988 film of the same name, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, which developed a cult following for its timely fashion choices, unexpected plot, and its trendy, humorous slang, including describing something wonderful as simply, “so very.”

The show is a dark comedy, set at an average American high school called Westerberg High. Though it is undoubtedly funny, with countless laugh-out-loud moments, there is heaviness in the subject matter that addresses homophobia, sexuality and identity, body shaming, sexual assault, school violence, and suicide.

The premise is both familiar and timeless in its simplicity: who fits in and how. First, the audience is introduced to each of the classic cliques: the jocks, the nerds, the nobodies, and of course, the envied popular girls—the three Heathers.

The musical primarily takes place from the perspective of high school nobody, Veronica, who expresses her inner world through song as she attempts to navigate the treacherous waters of high school politics. She gains favor with the Heathers, and quickly finds that the price of popularity, and acceptance, is steep.

Giving strong Regina George vibes, the lead Heather, “mythic bitch” Heather Chandler, brought to life by Marquel Wood, is a typical friend-zilla, demonstrated by her casual abuse and humiliation of Veronica and the other two Heathers throughout the story.

One glaring example is the croquet scene, where she forces Heather Duke to balance the ball on her head while the others swing wildly. The OB Playhouse cast executed this scene in a way that was both hilarious and graceful, in front of a giddy audience that was clearly familiar with the film. 

In order to fit in with the Heathers, Veronica must leave behind her old self and her old friends, including her heavyset best friend Martha Dunnstock, or as the Heathers call her cruelly, “Martha Dump Truck”.

The Heathers cloy Veronica into participating in a vicious prank: forging a love letter from jock Ram to Martha. When the Heathers execute the prank, Veronica – overcome by shame and sympathy for Martha– angrily withdraws from the clique, pukes all over Heather C., and in another iconic moment, tells her to, “Lick it up.”

Feeling that she is at rock bottom, with no secure place in the social pyramid, Veronica impulsively seeks out the dark and mysterious new kid, J.D., with whom she had shared a flirtatious moment in a 7-Eleven at an earlier point in the musical. They begin a rendezvous, and as they fall for each other, the plot takes a surprising turn!

Hating to see his girl feeling down, J.D. joins forces with Veronica to take revenge on Heather C. and the jocks for all they have done. J.D.’s idea of revenge is significantly more extreme and permanent than anything Veronica imagined. He proceeds to trick her into murdering Heather C. and the two jocks, and convinces her to forge suicide notes on behalf of each one.

Heather C.’s suicide note makes her seem deeper and more thoughtful than when she was alive. The jocks, Ram and Kurt, left a note that said they were both gay and in love with one another.

These “suicides” send ripples through the school, as Heather M. attempts to overdose in the school bathroom, and Martha jumps off a bridge. Though this story was born in the 1980’s, it is poignant today, when the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website states that nearly 20% of high school students surveyed report having had serious thoughts about suicide, while 9% have made an attempt. 

The show touched on homophobia when it was revealed that the two jocks were secretly in love with one another. One of their fathers was shocked and ashamed, until the other father talked him into acceptance, and they ultimately expressed pride in their sons. The cast delicately balanced the show’s satirical tone, and made it fun for the audience which received the moment with humor. 

Pushing the envelope a little further in a year where school shooting incidents in the United States have reached record numbers, the audience watches as J.D. devises a plot to bomb the school during the big pep rally, and make it look like a mass suicide.

As he searches the school boiler room for the perfect spot to plant the bomb, he is caught off guard by the not-actually-dead and desperately determined Veronica, as she sings the emotional  “Dead Girl Walking (Reprise)”. The OB Playhouse’s Veronica, played by Brooke Aliceon, hit every note with precision, and brought the audience along on her journey. 

In a dramatic exchange, Veronica and J.D. struggle over a gun until J.D. is shot. As he bleeds, he convinces her to give him the bomb, singing his heartbreaking final number “I Am Damaged” before it detonates, taking his life, but sparing the rest of the school. J.D., played by Kannon Gowen, delivered this solo with admirable skill and passion, conveying the character’s deep pain and hopelessness. 

After J.D. meets his tragic end, the show closes with a final scene back at Westerberg High: Veronica approaches reigning queen Heather D. and confiscates the symbolic red scrunchie, which Heather C. used to wear to signify her alpha position in the school.

This ultimate power move leaves the audience feeling relieved that the toxic regime has ended. Veronica rejoins her old friend Martha, who survived her jump off the bridge and is still recovering from her injuries. Another audience-favorite song “Seventeen”, first seen earlier when Veronica pleaded with J.D. to stop killing their classmates and simply hang out like normal teenagers, makes a welcome reprise as the show’s finale number. 

The musical takes some liberties from the 1989 movie “Heathers”, but the overall plot points remain the same.  The greatest difference would be the overall mood of the musical production, which is much more comedic and lighthearted than the movie. They’ve taken the challenges of being a human teenager in high school, and added some murder, suicide, rape, and– show tunes. It’s a sight to behold, and a really good time.

OB Playhouse’s production was full of heart and talent, with excellent performers cast in each role. With strong singing voices, rhythmic comedic timing, impressive cast chemistry, colorful costumes, smoke machines and stage lights, the cozy theater transformed into another world.

A joyful energy filled the space, as audience members laughed heartily and gasped in shock at the appropriate moments, creating that wonderful community feeling that live musical theater is meant to evoke. It’s a whole heap of fun for a very reasonable price, and a great way to spend a summer evening. “Heathers: The Musical” will continue to run at the OB Playhouse through June 11, 2023.