Based on the film written by Daniel Waters
Directed by Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg
Gungahlin Theatre to 27 October
Reviewed by Len Power 13 October 2018
New for Canberra, ‘Heathers’, based on the 1989 film of the same name, is a 2014 off-Broadway musical that seems to be having a steadily increasing success internationally. It’s already played in Sydney and a new production is currently playing in London’s West End.
More light-hearted than the original movie due to an engaging musical score, the show unflinchingly presents a disturbing story of bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault and violence in an American school. The language is raw and many of the characters are thoroughly repellent.
On the plus side, the directors, Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg, have given us an imaginative production that has strong in-depth performances, lots of energy and a nice pace flowing effortlessly from one scene to the next.
Chris Zuber’s set design of high school lockers was inspired and worked very well as entrances and exits for the cast. The complex lighting design by Carl Makin and Grant Pegg worked very well. The 1980s costumes by Jennie Norberry were colourful and matched the personalities of the characters. The high energy choreography by Nathan Rutups was excellent, showing a good understanding of heightening the intent of a song with appropriate routines.
The able cast of eighteen performed the show with skill and enthusiasm. Belle Nicol gave a fine characterisation as Veronica Sawyer and Will Huang was excellent as her troubled boyfriend, J.D. The three Heathers were given very distinct and amusingly awful personalities by Charlotte Gearside, Madeleine Betts and Mikayla Brady. Chelsea Heaney was a standout with her two very different characters of Martha Dunnstock and Paula Fleming. It was hard to believe it was the same actress in both roles. She achieved show-stoppers with both of her songs. The rest of the cast added considerably to the show with realistic characterisations and strong playing.
There was assured musical direction by Matthew Webster with fine playing by a band that sounded larger than it was. The singing by everyone in the cast was very strong. It’s a complex musical score with lots of harmonies which were generally well sung. Sound balance was mostly fine but some singing towards the end of the show was swamped by the sound level of the band.
This was a fine production of a modern musical with a very strong cast and clever direction and it was good to see another new musical that hasn’t played in Canberra before.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.