By Kieran J. Evans
As J.D. would say, “Greetings and Salutations!” Bravo Brisbane recently had the immense pleasure of attending Heathers The Musical at the Ron Hurley Theatre. This debut musical from Millennial Productions is a spectacular experience filled with a vibrant cast of exceptionally talented performers.
The show itself is a rock musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, a stellar retelling of the 1989 film of the same name by Daniel Waters. Despite the upbeat music, black comedy, and catchy lyrics, this is also about dark themes such as sexual assault, bullying, teen suicide, school violence, and the aftermath on the characters’ psyche therein.
Heathers takes us on a whirlwind tour of the hellscape that is high school. “The best years of our lives” are written by the victors, and the protagonist, Veronica, is definitely not that. Veronica is originally a mildly frumpy loser keen to land a protector for her school years so as to escape unscathed by bullying and the aggressive attentions of the jocks. She falls in with the titular trio, the Heathers, and draws the eyes of the new kid, J.D.; a brooding intelligent student with a dark past. J.D. entices her into a world of danger and wonder, which has far reaching consequences for the school at large.
The show was originally slated for transition from film to theatre in 2009, twenty years after it came out, wherein it debuted in Los Angeles and sold out, before moving to Off-Broadway in 2014. Heathers has also been at Off-West End in 2018, and a limited engagement in West End in 2018. During this time the show was nominated for the Drama Desk Awards, and the Lucille Lortel Award in 2014 for the original Off-Broadway production; and won Best New Musical and Best Actress in a Musical in 2019 for the WhatsOnStage Awards for the original West End production.
Featuring a carefully planned aesthetic design, the world of Heathers is created through stunning lighting, sound and set design. Presented on a tiered stage with minimal set pieces, designed by Kade O’Rourke and Nick Dean, the fantastically entertaining cuss-filled graffiti wall along the back of the stage forms the centrepiece of the design.The lighting designed by Perry Sanders, is highly effective, featuring a blue follow spot for eerie versions of characters haunting the protagonist, and a number of displays of multicoloured bursts for big dance numbers. Nick Dean’s sound design is sensational, serving to heighten the intensity of the action on stage; delivered on cue and without a hitch. Costume Design by Taylor Andrews is fabulous; a mix of late 80’s high hair, showing the decline into 90’s grunge.
Director Kade O’Rourke brings a clear vision to the stage; creating a piece fuelled by teenage apathy and violence to perfection. The use of the space, including the staircases within the audience and on stage, to signify the hierarchy of the Heathers clique is ingenious. The blocking feels natural and supports the action on the stage. The Musical Direction by Caitlin Wall and Eliza de Castro is excellent; featuring perfectly harmonised ensemble parts and strong performances by the lead vocalists. Magnificently choreographed by Lauren Bensted, Heathers presents a slew of perfectly synchronised dance numbers that serve to highlight the experience of high school cliques.
Erika Naddei is the absolute star of the show in the lead role of Veronica Sawyer. Her portrayal features a genuine quality of dorkiness and a desire to navigate high school unscathed which resonates with the audience. Erika is a spectacular performer with a wonderful stage presence whose talent makes her an unmistakable standout of the show. Erika’s vocals are simply to die for; boasting an immense range and a strong belt. Her chemistry with her onstage love interest, J.D., was believable and beyond entertaining to witness.
J.D. brought to the stage by Elliot Gough, grows believably from perfect mysterious stranger to unhinged sociopath; leaving no doubt whatsoever that Elliot is a spectacular talent. His portrayal of J.D. features solid acting choices, and phenomenal vocals. Elliot’s performance of “Freeze Your Brain” is hauntingly beautiful, showcasing his tremendous skill as a vocalist.
A particularly spectacular moment is Elliot and Erika’s performance in the scene “Dead Girl Walking”. They give us an onstage, insong sex scene that is raunchily riveting, and emotionally charged; a perfect display of the talent of both performers.
Chelsea Sales as Heather Chandler is the very image of the mean girl. Her portrayal is menacing and terrifying yet she manages to make us love her. Her vocal rendition of “Candy Store” is flawless from the very first note to the last. As Heather Duke, Josie Ross delivers a performance well beyond her years. Her performance of “Never Shut Up Again” is simply stunning, proving Josie is a marvellously talented vocalist. Marguerite Du Plessis creates a Heather McNamara that is nuanced, showcasing her talent for capturing the softer side of the mean girl. Her rendition of “Lifeboat” strikes at the heart and highlights her skill as a performer.
AJ Betts as Martha Dunnstock is another excellent performer, delivering a dorky Martha with a dark side flawlessly. Vocally, AJ shows incredible control delivering a heartstopping performance of “Kindergarten Boyfriend”. Portraying the comedic duo of Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly is Brandon Taylor-Cotton and Matt Domingo respectively. Brandon and Matt are both superb with wonderful comedic timing, managing to inject humour into some very serious scenes.
Josh Lovell and William Chen double as a number of smaller characters throughout the show with gusto. During an ironic yet openly tolerant musical number, “My Dead Gay Son”, Josh and William showcase a fabulous chemistry and long-standing in-universe camaraderie. As Ms Fleming, Emily Rohweder is a standout of the supporting cast. Delivering a quirky performance with phenomenal vocals in “Shine A Light”, she is the epitome of the out of touch teacher trying to connect with the youth.
A show like Heathers would not be possible without an extraordinarily talented ensemble to build out the world and bring energy to its delivery. The ensemble of this production consisting of Jaime O’Donoghue, Aidan Cobb, Chynna Santos, Giselle Roe, Olivia Hutchins, and Ian De Luna, gives a wonderful performance that engages the audience from beginning to end.
Overall, Millennial Productions’ debut is fabulous, featuring an extraordinary cast with tremendous talent; dancing, singing and acting through some very tough themes with poise and passion. Bravo Brisbane cannot wait to see what Millennial Productions does next!
Heathers The Musical plays at the Ron Hurley Theatre until April 10. Tickets are on sale now.