Written by Patrick Chavis
Before there was Mean Girls–a movie in the early 2000’s about a three-girl clique of popular girls dominating their high school with pretty looks, attitude and cruel gags, there was a much darker, less comical movie in the earlier 90’s called Heathers–a movie about a three-girl clique dominating their high school with pretty looks, attitude and cruel gags. A musical version of Heathers was created much later and while it maintains some of the darkness of the original film it goes in a much more fun and comical direction. Top Hat 8 Repertory’s version of Heathers High School Edition is done completely with high-schoolers. While technically flawed in certain sections, the performance from much of the cast coupled with the movement thought up by the director and perfect live band accompaniment makes this production of Heathers a great first showing for anyone.
We first meet Veronica (played last night by Sarah Ledesma) as she tries to fit into a High School world inhabited by bullies and victims alike. Tired of being dismissed and harassed Veronica uses her unique forgery skills to gain a place with the highest clique in school–the feared and revered Heathers. A three girl glamour squad made up of Heather McNamara (Callie Bixby), Heather Chandler (Madeline Bourgeois) and Heather Duke (Camille Liwanag) these girls control the school hallways with a cruel iron fist. Veronica soon realizes being a Heather is not what she expected, but when she tries to leave things get dark!
There are two different groups performing Heathers here, known as the Red cast and the Blue cast. I watched the Red version, and while I don’t have time to review both shows I can tell you what I experienced with the first group.
My favorite part has to be the live band accompaniment. The band does a great job amplifying the excitement of the show without drowning anyone out or being overbearing. That is a direct testament to James Post’s musical direction. All of the sound mixture, from the drums, to the bari saxophone , to the strings used are instrumental (pun intended) in keeping the energy and the pulse of the show. The energy of this show is fast and to the point and the music in this show ranges from pop to funk throughout.
The singing overall is very good. Often ensemble members are not given microphones so it’s a bit hard to understand what they are saying/singing, but that’s not the case with everyone. The projection from the singers operating without mics is impressive and displays obvious degree of musical theatre experience that goes beyond their ages. It’s true that the cast has a mixture of high school students with musical theatre training and others that are just getting into it but everyone is trying and there are no “phoned in” performances. I appreciate that, and I am sure my fellows in the audience do as well.
Some of the stand out songs to listen for that they just nailed last night– “Seventeen” between Sara Ledesma (Veronica) and Matthew Kontur (Jason JD Dean) starts off the list right at the top. It is a love ballad between these two kids and they perform it so well, so authentically, and honestly. Frankly it plays off much more realistically with these actors looking like they’re in high school instead of the much older actors often put in these roles. Original lead from the Heathers musical Barrett Wilbert Weed probably hits every note more accurately than a 16-year-old but with Top Hat 8’s cast there is no stretching of the imagination necessary.
Another song worth mentioning is “Fight For Me”. Not only do they pull it off musically and lyrically (several of the songs have their lyrics changed to be a bit more age appropriate), the physical choreography is very clever and will have you laughing. It basically covers all points and it is one of my favorite moments period.
Sarah Ledesma’s performance as Veronica is great. She has given her character such a relaxed demeanor that works quite well when coming from a teen. Ledesma’s performance and a few others pushes this show from being your usual high school performance to something a little more. But of course this was only accomplished because of the backing of the entire ensemble.
The main Heather, Heather Chandler (Madeline Bourgeois) walks, looks and talks like this character. She doesn’t miss a beat the entire show and its deadly obvious she’s put a lot of thought and work into this performance.
Following right behind Bourgeois performance in Yellow is Callie Bixby’s Heather McNamara, who performs “Life Boat” one of the shorter songs in the show, but it is also one of the more emotional and pertinent songs as well. Bixby shows a great control in supporting the main character and she knows when to stand out.
Heathers the musical is a well written show with a good relatable message and if you’ve never seen the show or the movie or the musical, Top Hats production is a good start.
July 14th – July 22nd 2017