Some people might express shock that the 1988 cult film Heathers—which starred the budding pair of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater—has been made into a musical. It’s a very dark story, after all—one that wrings laughs out of high school students (one of them clad in a black trench coat) murdering their classmates. What was outlandish in 1988 is now all too real—hardly an ideal fit for a musical comedy.
But, despite all that, Heathers: The Musical mostly works. (Mostly.) It helps that it was written by the team of Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde), whose styles are perfectly suited to the material. Not only have they written a whole slew of catchy, synth-pop ballads, they’ve also turned the story’s satire dial up to 11. They’re trying—and sometimes succeeding—to beat Trey Parker and Matt Stone at their own game.
If this sounds like something you might like, then, by all means, check out director James Beaudry’s absolutely knockout production via the rising Kokandy Productions. The cast is fantastic across the board, starting with Courtney Mack and Chris Ballou as Veronica and J.D., the play’s Morrissey-era Bonnie and Clyde protagonists. Mack, especially, is someone Chicago audiences should keep an eye on.
As the titular, tyrannical Heathers, Jacquelyne Jones, Haley Jane Schafer and Rochelle Therrien all bring their A-games. The same could be said, in fact, of all the supporting performances. To say this show is well-sung is like saying that Kyle Schwarber is good at hitting baseballs really hard. Music director Kory Danielson deserves kudos.
Where Heathers: The Musical occasionally falters is in its tone. It spends so much time viciously satirizing high school, well-meaning liberals and celebrity that it has trouble getting serious when it needs to. (After all, teenagers are dying.) Its disinterest in good taste also crosses the line once or twice, like in the song “Blue,” when it tries to squeeze some yuks from an attempted rape.
Still, while Heathers: The Musical will sometimes make you cringe, it will mostly (mostly) make you laugh. This is no small feat given the subject matter, and this Chicago production definitely earns the show some extra credit.
Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit. By Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe. Directed by James Beaudry. Music Direction by Kory Danielson. Choreography by Sawyer Smith. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.