Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Heathers the musical@ Beck Center…rockin’ music, teen-aged angst and great choreography!

A teenaged girl snarls at another, “I know who I’m sitting with at lunch, do you?”  Yes, high school can be a time of great angst or hellish glee.  Depends on which clique you are in!  Jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, drama-kids, brains…what was your place in the high school hierarchy?

Veronica, seventeen-year-old teenage misfit at Westerburg [Ohio] High School, yearns to be a Heather, the in-group!  The Heathers...head cheerleader Heather McNamara, the sullen Heather Duke and the “bitch Queen,” Heather Chandler. Yes, the Heathers….3 blond bombshells who run the high school for their own enjoyment.  Harassment, bullying and degrading, allowed.

Veronica hangs with over-weight, nice kid, Martha Dunstock, better known as Martha Dumptruck, until one “glorious day.  That day Veronica’s talents as a forger are discovered and the creation of hall passes  and absence excuses flow forth and detentions disappear.  Through forgery, Veronica becomes a Heather. 

Will Veronica now become miss popular?  Will she, after achieving her goal, turn on Martha?  Will she fall for J.D., new school bad boy and become, like him, a psychopathic killer?   Will idiot jocks Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly be knocked from their stud pedestals?  Will J.D. satisfy the longings for revenge of every high school outsider who was the victim of character assassination and bullying by the likes of the Heathers?  Will the audience cheer when they vicariously get their settling of scores?

Yes, high school can be hell, and Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, conceivers of Heathers the musical, now in production at Beck Center for the Arts, have found the key to a fun, but often sadistic way of making bullying into a means of entertainment.

Heathers has a bizarre history.  A Daniel Waters-written, non-musical version was filmed in 1988 and became a cult hit.  It made instant celbs of Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty.  Though not a critical hit, the film was named one of the “Best High School Movies” and Ranked #412 on the list of “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.”

The musical’s start came on September 13, 2010, via a concert/reading in a pub.  The script languished until 2013 when it showed for a limited engagement at Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles.  And then it hit the big time when, in February, 2014, it opened off-Broadway for a moderate run.  Since then, the script has become a favorite of community theatres looking for a device to attract younger audiences.

Beck’s production, under the direction of Scott Spencer, which is being staged in the intimate Studio Theatre, fills the space with rock sound, great singing and good acting.  The star of the show, however, is Martin Céspedes’ choreography. 

One dynamic dance routine after another explodes.  The opening “Beautiful” sets the mood and is followed by such other showstoppers as “Blue” and “Shine a Light.”  This is Céspedes at his finest and it makes the production a special event.

Madeline Krucek, gives just the right tone to kind, Veronica, who has a strong sense of right and wrong, even if she gets waylaid for a while by bad boy JD (Shane Lonergan).  She has a fine singing voice and nice stage presence.  Her duets “Dead Girl Walking” and “Seventeen,” sung with Lonergan, are compelling.

Logan, dressed in the appropriate “Columbine” black trench coat, doesn’t look like a deadly psychopath (do they ever?), but he portrays killer to the core.  His well sung “Freeze Your Brain” gives a clue into what is going to come.  

Kayla Heichel was born a “high school mean girl!”  This lass portrays evil, power and control with ease as the hateful H. Chandler, leader of the Heathers.  She is well backed up by the other “Heathers,” (McNamara) Amy Kohmescher and (Duke) Tia Karaplis.    They all have strong singing voices and their solos are well done.

Molly Millsaps creates a Martha (Dumptruck), she of beautiful soul, with charm and pathos, in spite of teasing and rejection.  Her version of “Kindergarten Boyfriend” is a wonderful ballad which gets a lovely rendition.

Riley Ewing (Ram Sweeney) and Jonathan Walker White (Kurt Kelly) are right out of the playbook…walking six-packs with no brains and lots of unbridled testosterone.  The duo can actually dance, sing and act.

Matthew Wright (Ram’s Dad) and Paul Floriano (Kurt’s Dad) almost steal the show with their rendition of “My Dead Gay Son.” 

Multi-award winning Trad A. Burns shows his usual creativity in designing a visually and functionally perfect mock-locker filled set.  His lighting design, along with Aimee Kluiber’s costumes, helps in creating the right illusions.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster and his band do a great job of hitting all the right notes and supporting instead of drowning out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Heathers the musical continues the Beck trend of staging dynamic, small, cult appealing shows (e.g., Evil Dead, Reefer Madness, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) in its Studio Theatre.  With dynamic choreography, a well-played rock-infused-with-ballads score, and enough blood, gore and simulated sex to grab and hold an audience, Heathers should be awarded with a sold out run! 

Heathers the musical
is scheduled to run through July 2, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org 

Next at Beck: The regional premiere of Billy Elliot the musical with music by Elton John from July 8 through August 14, 2016.