Slow Burn's Heathers: Dark, Delightful and Necessary
Heathers is familiar to many audiences as the 1980’s cult film satirizing high school dramatics, but the short-lived musical of 2014 has evaded many viewers. The stage production lived Off-Broadway, drowning in rave reviews and love. Slow Burn’s director Patrick Fitzwater takes the story of a troubled teen falling in love with a murderous terrorist and delivers a rocking ballad to an audience that needs it now more than ever.
For those unfamiliar, Heathers chronicles the senior year of Veronica Sawyer as she falls into the popular girl group, with the three titular Heathers – Chandler, Duke, and McNamara. While trying to fit in, she falls for shady bad-boy Jason Dean (J.D.) and begins to lose track of who she is. Then the deaths begin.
Fitzwater’s production of the hard rocking cult classic is all about duality. There’s wonderful coupling between everything – popular and sincere, young and old, dangerous and loving. Each character plays well off another and seeing them clash brings chaotic tension to life – Abby Perkin’s Veronica and Bruno Faria’s J.D., the pair of Domenic Servidio and Justen Fox-Hall as the riotous jocks Kurt and Ram, or background Heathers Sunny Gay and Cristina Flores. Anywhere you look, there are people bouncing off another, the polarity giving even the background ensemble a shine.
It is this same conflict that gives rise to one of the best ensembles South Florida has seen in a while. The characterization of the nameless characters such as ‘Young Republicanette’ and ‘Beleaguered Geek’ make watching group songs such as Fight for Me one where watching the background tells a story parallel to the events of the song, a story just as funny if not more rewarding. The vocals blend well, and allow each actor to burst out their skills, such as Meagan Nagy’s ‘Stoner Chick’ high notes, pun disregarded.
With this support, the show has its foundations. The skyscraper named Heathers grows with the named leads, each deserving ovations. Perkins’ Veronica retains the original’s appeal while introducing a vicious rock belt, Leah Sessa leads the Heather’s not just with her stand-out performance, but with an aura of alpha-bitch that Cleopatra would step around. Servidio and Fox-Hall are so high-energy that the ridiculous characters work and manage separate roles- something the original jocks didn’t manage. Even the adults, Ben Sandomir, Noah Levine, and the hair-raising voice of Shelley Keelor take their time on the stage with gusto.
It is really in Perkin’s Veronica that we find Fitzwater’s Heathers. From her meek opening lines, her energetic jumping, her powerful domination of her flaws, into her realization of vulnerability, Perkins perfectly illustrates the inner struggle and arc every teen and adult faces in understanding themselves. Perkins gives us a voice in all our hardships. Heathers comes in on the heels of truly difficult times in Florida for understanding yourself, and these issues are directly addressed. There has never been a better time for Heathers, with the message of love, struggle, and acceptance (with a focus on gay acceptance happily included). J.D.’s placement in the finale, looking down at what he’s created with a pained acceptance, shows that one day, perhaps the hate will eventually dissipate, and that all will feel beautiful. We can be beautiful.
There’s too much to point to, as though the Heathers stage was an art gallery ten minutes before close. To discuss Faria’s manic nature? Cristina Flores rise to power? Sunny Gay marked the show’s turning point from dark humor into a more serious nature with a moving performance of Lifeboat. Gay’s credit is due for taking a character normally played for laughs as a whimsical ditz into a Heather McNamara that may be a bit of a fool, but a sincere and honest one. Stephanie Trull, a new actress in the Slow Burn community, takes Martha from a foolish side role into the representation of Veronica’s innocence and heart. Trull develops alongside the plot and becomes sadder and sadder until her breath-taking solo Kindergarten Boyfriend brings the satire to a dramatic peak.
The subtleties of Heathers technical work doesn’t go unnoticed, whether it be Becky Montero’s smooth lighting design, the small details of Rick Pena’s costuming, or Sean McClelland’s reliable set pieces. Never does the show about a tacky era delve into the tasteless- Montero doesn’t claw at the chance to take lighting cues from every lyric, avoiding easy goes in Blue and Our Love is God for more enjoyable tricks behind the party scene and Dead Girl Walking. McClelland’s original design and pieces are all befitting his detail work, with the eight working lockers and spinning stands helping transitions. Rick Pena, somebody you’d expect to see on the stage, gave each of the Heathers a flair for the dramatic and dashing they needed. From Veronica’s plaid buttons to Martha’s pink fish-net fingerless gloves, Pena brings the soul of the original and film into a Ft. Lauderdale theatre.
Those familiar with Heathers and those who don’t know their damage yet, you have one weekend left to catch the sell-out smash that ends Slow Burns best season yet. You can purchase tickets online through the Broward Center website.