This year’s AUTS show is a welcome change from the ol’ razzle-dazzle musicals that have gone up in Moyse Hall previously. Heathers: The Musical, written by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, and directed by McGill student Kenzia Dalie, is a dark comedic take on the worst parts of being a high school student.
Most of us are familiar with the 1988 cult-classic by the same name, but while the movie maintains a sardonic tone, the musical supplants cynicism with the message that teenagers can be bearable sometimes. Heathers: The Musical, set in the 1980s, follows brainiac teen Veronica Sawyer’s (Mariel White) ascent to popularity in her horrible suburban high school. For Veronica, high school (somehow) becomes more unbearable once she is recruited as one of the popular girls’ new cronies. Fed up with the bullies, Veronica turns to mysterious sadboy J.D. (Joe Christie) to take down the illustrious crew of mean girls, the ‘Heathers’ (Caroline Portante, Emily Sheeran, and Devin Sunar), but this alliance causes things to (somehow still) get much worse. As is the traditional rule of comedy, Heathers has a ‘happy’ ending- depending on how you define ‘happy’- but not before commenting on many of the challenges North American youth face. Issues like bullying, suicide, and mental health take centre stage. And while most of the characters embody some sinister high school stereotype, there is something disturbingly familiar about a straight white boy hell-bent on hurting his classmates—be it a creepy jock or a deranged loner.
The low-budget musical format works perfectly for Heathers. Dalie capitalizes on the cheesiness of the musical genre. The outrageousness of the musical numbers—the jazzy choreography, wacky costumes, and ridiculous songs—is self-aware. Instead of being cringe worthy, the jazz hands and chorus lines come off as ironic against the dark tone of the comedy. While the show could do with fewer chassé-ball-changes, the actors are exuberant and embrace the campiness. It’s a strange experience to bop along to a song titled “I Love My Dead Gay Son” in the audience, and yet the crowd, including myself, was enthused.
White’s performance as Veronica Sawyer must be lauded if not for her on-point dryness, but for her rich tenor voice and vocal stamina. Christie, who manages to look extremely menacing and handsome at the same time, is Christian Slater reincarnated as J.D. The stand-out performances of the cast are by Darragh McArdle and Colin McCrossan who play Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney respectively. The AUTS rookies play horrible/adorable jocks whose chemistry, energy, and comedic timing had the audience in stitches. The objective highlight of the two-hour production was their lengthy ode “Blue” that is, appropriately, about ‘blue balls’. The audience’s laughter carried on into the lengthy set change that followed. As someone who is staunchly opposed to male bravado and entitlement, McArdle and McCrossan’s goofiness made their thoroughly misogynistic characters likeable.
What stands out about Heathers is how effortless it is for a bunch of university students to pretend to be evil teenagers; the actors’ enjoyment in their roles is palpable to the audience. Moreover, it’s very easy to sit in the audience and laugh along. This is of course aided by the strong cast performances, but there is something about adolescent stereotypes that strike a universal chord of truth. High school is one of the few unifying experiences McGill’s diverse student body has, and while Heathers takes place in a white Midwestern town, we can all relish in the awkward hilarity that is teenagers discovering (and degrading) themselves. While it is obviously exaggerated, we can see ourselves in Heathers. We see our friends and old classmates, but we also see all the horrible things we used to do to each other out of insecurity. On one hand it makes us glad we aren’t like that anymore, but the nostalgia of Heathers also makes us wish that we had all just been a little nicer to each other back then.
Heathers: The Musical is running from January 26th to 28th in Moyse Hall (Arts Building, 853 Sherbrooke Street West). Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students, seniors, and QDF Members with ID.