Based on the 1988 cult film classic, the musical “Heathers” incorporates some pretty harsh themes. Admirably, McHenry County College’s Blackbox Theatre doesn’t shy away from any of them; all the pathos, angst and excitement of high school life are covered in this dark comedy written by “Legally Blonde” composer Laurence O’Keefe and “Reefer Madness” author Kevin Murphy.
Director Jay Geller has cast extremely well, and keeps this luxuriant production well-paced and high-energy, as does Maggie McCord’s show-stopping, buoyant choreography. Tara Singer’s music direction is sassy and bubbly, and complemented by pit band members Eric Scheele, Annie Ballin and Sam Schatz.
“Heathers: The Musical” was an off-Broadway and West End hit, and won the Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards. The somewhat complex plot tells the story of Veronica Sawyer and her relationships with a ruthless clique known as the Heathers at Westerberg High School. Along the way, Veronica falls for the new kid, J.D., but when the top Heather, Heather Chandler, the Almighty, kicks her out of the clique, things begin to change and not for the better.
From the moment she appears on stage proclaiming, “This is no high school, this is the Thunderdome,” Gabrielle Urbina as Veronica captivates your attention and flawlessly serves as narrator and guide through the year 1989 at Westerberg High School in Sherwood, Ohio, (mascot: The Rottweilers). Her powerful and unwavering vocals are as expressive as her face; she’s delightfully credible as the moral, upstanding inductee of the Heathers, despite her gift for forgery. How sad when she announces to her mom, “The Heathers will get me safely through high school.” Urbina is an extremely talented and gifted performer.
Urbina also has a radiant chemistry with Ethan Sherman, who is literally the heartthrob in black, the brooding Baudelaire-quoting new kid. Sherman looks and acts the part of the avenging angel, and is exceptional in his duet “Our Love Is God” with Urbina, and his stand-alone solo “Freeze Your Brain,” extolling the virtues of Slurpees for numbing pain. Watching his well-acted descent is captivating.
And then there are the candy-color-suited Heathers, the lip-glossed Gestapo, who are “solid Teflon – never bothered, never picked on,” who serve to mock and torture other students. As portrayed by Grace Corwine, Erin Benson and Sarah Hadfield, they are memorably nasty and snobby. Corwine is a particularly remarkable toxic demon queen. The meanest of the three, she delivers a powerful rendition of “Candy Store.”
Providing somewhat of a comic relief, but also great memories of the football players everyone knows, are Conor Madigan as Ram and Nick Robison as Kurt. Madigan is truly believable as the jock in his “third year of smacking lunch trays” and in his hilarious, freeze-action/slow-mo facials in “Fight for Me.” As Kurt, Robison portrays the “smartest guy on the football team, which is like being the tallest dwarf” with vigor. They are superb together.
The supportive ensemble has to be mentioned. Raucous and entertaining, they are all dimensional characters in posture, emotion and costume: Isabella Aguilar, Desmon Brock, Ki Kennedy, Adeline Keller, Cody Klimek, Drew Roewer, Izzy Griffin and Angelina Smith. And there are standouts: Monica Hauschild as ex-hippie schoolteacher Miss Fleming, Jake Seelye, Antoni Lopez Pares as the fathers of Ram and Kurt (a scene-stealing “My Dead Gay Son”) and Grey Smith as the mocked and picked on Dumptruck Martha definitely add a few more colors to the “Heathers” palette.
For those of us who experienced the late 1980s, you’ll appreciate the references to the Breakfast Club, 7-Eleven, “feeling like Bono at Live Aid” and Air Supply to mention a few. You’ll also concur with set designer Eric Luchen and scenic artist Holly Adkins’ realistic high school setting, and Carol Foreman’s shoulder-padded, neon-colored costumes.
Everything works with this production, which contains adult language and mature situations.
And although you may not go away humming any of the tunes, there will be plenty of reactive conversations and thoughts about the finale’s “we’re all damaged, but will survive,” with much consciousness about the current bullying, suicides and shootings we’ve sadly grown accustomed to. This “Heathers” will make you a little more hopeful.
• Regina Belt-Daniels was probably saved from high school cliques by being involved with theater. Since the first grade, she’s either been onstage or backstage acting, directing, producing, stage managing or writing reviews and, hopefully, not torturing anyone in the process.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Heathers: The Musical”
WHERE: Black Box Theatre in Building E at McHenry County College, 8900 Highway 14, Crystal Lake
WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 4, 5, 11 and 12, and 2 p.m. Nov. 6 and 13
COST: $20; $15 for seniors, students, veterans, alumni
INFORMATION: Reservations at 815-455-8746, email@example.com; www.mchenry.edu/blackbox