Written by 8:20 pm Musical, Review, Top Hat 8 Repertory, Tustin, Uncategorized

Top Hat 8 Repertory: Heathers The Musical in Tustin – Review

Written by Patrick Chavis 

Before there were 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 early ’90s called Heathers–a movie about a three-girl clique dominating their high school with pretty looks, attitude and cruel gags. A musical version of Heather’s 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. 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 things get dark when she tries to leave!               

Two different groups are 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 show’s energy and pulse. The show’s energy is fast and to the point, and the music 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 an obvious degree of musical theatre experience beyond their ages. The cast has a mixture of high school students with musical theatre training and others 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) start off the list right at the top. It is a love ballad between these two kids, and they perform it so authentically and honestly. 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. The original lead from the Heathers musical Barrett Wilbert Weed probably hits every note more accurately than a 16-year-old. 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 covers all points and 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 push this show from 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 it’s deadly obvious she’s put a lot of thought and work into this performance. 

Following behind Bourgeois’s performance in Yellow is Callie Bixby’s Heather McNamara, who performs “Life Boat,” one of the shorter songs in the show. Still, it is also one of the more emotional and pertinent songs. Bixby shows excellent control in supporting the main character and knows when to stand out.    

Heathers the musical is a well-written show with an excellent 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 

 

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