Sunday, June 15, 2014


Laurence O'Keefe is no stranger to musicalizing campy subject matter. He had a hit on Broadway with the guilty pleasure musical Legally Blonde and his musical Bat Boy is an Off-Broadway cult favourite.

Fitting, then, that he should have tackled Heathers, based on the 1988 movie of the same name. The movie has attained large cult status despite early box office failure, and it spawned a lot of similarly campy high school movies, primarily the immensely popular Mean Girls.

But how does it work as a musical?

With lyricist Kevin Murphy, O'Keefe has crafted a bouncy and fun pop-rock score that lends itself beautifully to the subject matter.

The score flashes with elements of bubblegum pop and glam rock with some unexpectedly serious ballads thrown into the mix for good measure. Songs like the infectious and deliciously mean Candy Store stick to the brain instantly, while others like the passionate Seventeen carry some legitimate dramatic heft. Through all of the campy and silliness, there is a grounded core with something serious to say.

The score opens strongly, with a long opening number titled Beautiful that is true to its name. It does a wonderful job of setting the tone and establishing the circumstances. Not to mention the fact that it's carried by Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica, a relative newcomer with a stunning voice. Her spunky and quirky presence shines through the whole recording. She can sing with great subtlety in quieter moments, but watch out when she gets to belt (and she gets plenty of opportunity for that here). It'll blow your head off of your shoulders, especially in the crazed and fierce Dead Girl Walking. As love interest and rebel J.D, Ryan McCartan is another unfamiliar name that impresses. He has a pleasing pop voice perfectly suited to the material and he gets a chance to show it off in the passionate and off-kilter Meant to Be Yours.

As the Heathers themselves, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Elle McLemore, and Alice Lee work hard to bring forth biting meanness and staggering sex appeal. These are three girls you wouldn't want to cross, and they shine on the aforementioned Candy Store. Elle McLemore also has a gorgeous and haunting solo, titled Lifeboat, that's a highlight of the album.

Is Heathers faithful to the source material? Having never seen the movie, I can't honestly say. What I can say, however, is that this musical is unexpectedly wonderful. It's hilarious, tons of fun, and is full of catchy and memorable tunes. Not only that, but it makes another high achievement: It strongly captures the world of a teenager... the vastness and the angst that comes with that. It's not an easy feat, but Heathers does it. It has bite, and just as much heart. The results are sure to be as popular of a cult hit among theatregoers as the movie is among moviegoers.

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