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Review: Heathers the Musical by Grover Theatre Company at The Basin Theatre

Review by Elise D’Amico

Heathers the Musical is based on the 1989 cult classic black comedy of the same name. Heathers is the original ‘Mean Girls’, except instead of planning to socially kill the rulers of the high school caste as revenge for their cruelty, they are actually murdered. Veronica Sawyer begins her journey as a bullied outcast whose only friend is the naïve misfit unceremoniously dubbed Martha ‘Dumptruck’. Veronica is suddenly adopted by the trio of scrunchy wearing Heathers who make her popular and beautiful, however she soon realises she cannot be complicit in their cruel regime. However, leaving the clique is not as easy as she thinks. She is also drawn to the handsome and mysterious new guy, JD, who is trying to save the world, and Veronica… by talking out the high school elite. This dark satire touches on many aspects of the teenage experience, including peer pressure, bullying, fat-shaming, bulimia, sexual intimidation and homophobia, with a side serving of murder, suicide and all consuming ‘I would die for you’ obsession.

Grover Theatre Company’s Heathers began with a suitable trigger warning, before launching into the fun and mayhem. The opening number was suitably full of colour and energy and the reveal of the untouchable Heathers on a raised platform above their lowly teenage masses drew cheers from the audience. In fact, the audience cheered enthusiastically throughout the production, with good reason.

We were treated to a great piece of theatre, with extremely well cast leads and a very strong ensemble. Esther Pehman as Veronica had the audience onside right from her first entrance and was excellent in portraying her struggles between being true to herself, her peers and her boyfriend. Ms Pehman was vocally very strong. Andrew Vassett was outstanding as the damaged and brooding JD, although he occasionally upstaged himself. The pair had lovely chemistry and were believable as toxic teenage lovers. Likewise, the Heathers were extremely engaging, with a special mention to Kristen Ryan who was funny without becoming comical and losing her pathos. Joy Pote and Jack Bell as the football jocks were very funny and provided levity in some dark moments. Sos Gill was a standout as Ms Fleming in humour, audience interactions and with a huge vocal range on full display in ‘Shine a Light’. The first song after intermission, ‘My Dead Gay Son’ was a firm audience favourite and performed beautifully and joyously. Kindergarten Boyfriend was also interpreted beautifully, with the addition of a dreamlike ballet number symbolising the younger characters’ innocent love, as Saskia Penn made full use of the stage flitted through spot lights and up and down the levels.

The Direction and staging by Hannah Bird was excellent, with the stage used to full capacity without feeling crowded or chaotic; no mean feat with a cast of 25, who were seamless and remained faithfully in character, interacting with each other with angsty authenticity and joy. While the story touches on taboo themes, Ms Bird handled it with just enough tongue in cheek irreverence to keep the audience engaged but with enough sensitivity and insight to prevent the topics being dismissed as farcical or irrelevant. The set was simple but well executed, with an iconic Slushee machine anchoring the scene set in 7/11, lockers for the school hallways and the use of quintessential American banners hanging from the second level railing. Scene changes will get even faster over the season. The use of the higher level enabled the recently deceased to look down over the action, lit in devil red, which was visually very effective, especially with the jocks’ red boxer shorts completing the theme. The lighting design was excellent, with strategic use of primary colours and moody washes.

Ashleigh Janky’s choreography was wonderful and included group numbers, slow motion, believable fight scenes, tap dancing and ballet. On the whole the vocals were of a high standard, and the live orchestra added wonderful energy, which meant the audience often bopped along to the catchy tunes, despite their often black content. There were minor technical issues with lights and sound which will iron out during the run. Some microphone glitches and interference during the second act was unfortunate as it made it difficult to hear some of the dialogue and singing at times, however the cast were unshaken and compensated where needed.

The attention to detail in costumes, hair and make-up deserve a special mention, capturing every character’s personality while maintaining the late 80s American High School tropes and the intention of the film.

In all, this darkly funny play was entirely deserving of the large and enthusiastic audience it attracted, and it was great to see so many younger patrons so engaged with the show. The love and hard work clearly invested by the creatives has resulted in a clever, thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Image Supplied


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