HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL DONE THE CORRECT WAY - I WANT TO BE A “HEATHER”
High School novelas don’t get as dark and vicious as the classic Teen cult film HEATHERS released back in 1988. The Sirens of the Odyssey and Witches of Macbeth make their way to Barestage Theatre Company East Bay premiere of the musical version of HEATHERS. The lovely bullies of Westerberg High School are now on stage for one more weekend at UCB student produced theatre company of HEATHERS that must close April 30th. “F me gently with a chainsaw” rings out at the Choral Room stage, and these mean girls are the best. The Musical version of this “Chainsaw” and “Mallet Hammer” - is better than the film. This romp is directed by the proven Elizabeth Mathis and superbly choreographed by Joe Ayers is sharper than the recent San Francisco run back in 2015.
Director Mathis brings this talented cast home to their proper stage in deep underground at the University of California Berkeley choral room where this excellent cast seem perfectly age appropriate for some dark teenage gore. The musical had a preview run in LA back in 2013 and then moved to Off Broadway with mixed reviews. Writers Lawrence O’Keefe (Bat Boy and Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (“Reefer Madness”) use many of the iconic lines from the film, “What’s your damage?” to “I just killed my best friend.-- and your worst enemy”. This show best suits its millennial cast and climate for all the topics of teen angst this story explores. The film “Heathers,” with its cynical world-view, vicious dark streak and snappy blue dialogue, “Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count” is well presented in this production.
This cast of 17 offers a heavy dose of teenage angst with a body count that is one of the most scathing indictments and engaging explorations of high-school populism seen on stage. “Beautiful” opens the first act with Veronica introduces the cast of jocks, mean girls and nerds. “The future gas attendants of America”. The story is much the same as the film. Veronica is taken in by the “Heathers” and we meet mysterious JD, the part that launched Christian Slaters career, played dynamicly by the talented Teddy Lake. Westerberg High School is the dark death camp we remember. JD, the new girl on campus, plans to rid WHS of teen tyranny and bullies, and has her own plans in store for the Heathers. One of the highlights of the show is the ballad asking to me normal in a crazy teen fallout, the song “Seventeen” is excellent featuring the two leads Veronica and J.D.
The sterling Josie Clark plays the smart girl outcast, Veronica Sawyer, who is accepted into the inner-circle of popular girls known as the Heathers-- the smart Emily Bacon as Heather Chandler, Sofie Fier as Heather McNamara, and Yoonji Jang as Heather Duke. But with this rise in social status comes a sadistic cruelty and cultish groupthink that Veronica can’t accept. She defects once she hooks up with the new kid in school – a moody bad girl named J.D. played by the skillful Teddy Lake.
Lake approached the production team during auditions and told director Mathis that her intention was to only audition for J.D. Mathis approved of this clever role change and cast the famous Christian Slater role as a homicidal yet lovable female version of J.D. It works especially her song “Freeze Your Brain” Lake has clear J.D. inflection and not over the top Jack Nicholson “I don’t know the names, don’t bother with faces, all I can trust is this concrete oasis.”
Mathis also created a fast cut media visual video that opens the show capturing the 80’s and Yohana Ansari-Thomas’ linear 80’s set design takes this teen satire to the max. It is a visual evening of teen angst from suicide to dads who love their gay sons. This show celebrates the weirdness of high school and the awesomeness of the 80’s. From the first chord we are introduced to the popular girls, the HEATHERS - The elegant evil Emily Bacon as queen Heather Chandler, the snarky Yoonji Jang is wonderful as the evil and adorable Heather Duke and the savvy Sofie Fier as the alpha Heather McNamara.
Costume designer Juliet Swanson has the girls in their 80’s colors padded tops, and hair sprayed to perfection. High stockings and short skirts brought the “Heathers” their classic 80’s look. The ensemble fast changes into a number of 80’s clothes, rocker tee’s and button shirts, and the fitting “mom” jeans for the adult cast.
The romp is just the right amount of snark and candy colored camp. Mathis and Ayers and their team cast some of the best young locals to round out this Cal Berkeley cast. Skilled first time BearStage player Josie Clark plays 17 year old Veronica, and is perfect as the Winona Ryder subtext of the fourth Heather. Clark is on the mark with “Fight for Me” a company song in the first act, and the superb “Dead Girl Walking” she is pitch perfect along with Lake at her side. The high energy cast is very intense and can all sing their hearts out, including marvelous Shazdeh Hussain as the bullied and humble Martha; her solo “Kindergarten Boyfriend” is riveting and her voice is grand.
Photos by Riley Bathauer
The company has sold out most of their performances and the college audience and family friends are blown away with every turn and song of the story. Almost rock concert like crowd cheering all the classic lines from the “Heathers.” J.D.’s immortal line “Our love is God” and “Are we going to prom or to hell?”. The first act opens with the show stopper anthem “Fight For Me” and amped the crowd as they cheered each of the numbers. Choreographer Ayers brings some amazing full throttle dance to this cast, making his high energy hustle its own character. “Big Fun” with the two jocks Ram and Kurt brings down the house as well as “The Me Inside Me”.
The song “Blue” brings two featured actors front and center as show stealers, the likable Alex Scoolis and polished Ethan Glasman played the adorable jock idiots Kurt and Ram. Ayers created some marvelous shtick for them as the two boys sing about their “blue balls”. Scoolis and Glasman bring the down the house in the second act in “Yo Girl” only dressed in their blue briefs.
Their two dads are played by the vibrant Harry Fahn and the hilarious Jackson Paddock and they are foolproof in the second act song “Dead Gay Son”. Riveting Music Director Jennifer Huang and her eight member on stage orchestra bring down the choral room at UCB. Fahn and Paddock play all the adult men roles from dads to coaches and the both have perfect on stage comic timing along with JS Wu who plays all the adult women roles including the hippie school counselor.
I don’t want to over compliment the work of Joe Ayers, but he reminds me of the TBA double winner choreographer Alex Rodriguez who created the choreography for Ray of Light's version of the teen romp. Ayers is splendid at using body pops and jazz movement to create that 80’s pop feel and dance. He kept his cast moving at a 100% full speed 80’s wild and still added his own style in the mix. Prop master Zach Goldstein scored the needed croquet mallets, dial phones and of course the Blue drink and the Gun final scene main prop. Assistant director Claire Pearson helped keep the cast on cue and Mathis designed the clever entrances for the HEATHERS as every aisle in the audience is used to feature one of the bullies.
Brennan Martin Tech Director worked closely with Feroz James’ sound design bringing that gun to life and other rock and roll sounds that brightened the excellent 80’s pop light design by the talented Katie Basu. With a fast moving cast and sold out crowds Laura Weinthal stage manager team included Andrew Gleeson, Eliana Adise, Mia Barad and Zane Martin.
Westerberg High School is also filled with some ordinary kids such as Martha who is not softic but more nerdy played by the charming Hussain. Her love for one of the school bullies and Ram, is very sweet and dark as the suicide subtext spins the story. Ram’s best JO buddy Kurt continues to drive the story spending most of the second act in just their briefs and are featured in the memorable numbers. After Veronica blows some well deserved chunks on the Queen Heather, the first death is classic fun as she mutters “corn nuts” and expires. More slaughter to follow. The story still deals with some serious issues that gave the original movie its cult edge, bullying, teen sex, campus shootings, bomb threats and teen suicide. J.D.’s subtext is just as chilling today as when this film was an 80’s hit and as a female the timing is perfect. Since the film's release Columbine was a headline and “Heathers” is pre Hunger Games of sorts with endless laughs.
O’Keefe and Murphy bring back all the murdered victims from the dead to sing and disturb Veronica and J.D. and blame them for missing their grad day. The sharp lyrics are ferociously funny. The second act opens with the hit song and show stopper “My Dead Gay Son” performed by the two dads - Harry Fahn and the knock your socks off, Jackson Passock, both actors bring the house down.
Notable in the company is the accomplished, Ryan Advincula, who does not skip on any of Ayers’ brilliant dance moves. The dapper Cameron La Brie, Juan Castro Cruz, Shauna Satnick, David Truong, and Ada Chang as the Greek chorus of teens and the winning JS Wu as the adult women. Production manager Kerri Yen and producer Kacey Mayeda are to be commended for bringing this non-stop show to the underground stage at the UCB campus.
“HEATHERS” the rowdy bloody guilty pleasure musical, with a cast that delivers every outlandish syllable with a delightful combo of self-aware silliness and spoofy seriousness. Congrats to the Barestage Productions for making me a HEATHER! Their next event is the BARESTAGE Spring Showcase May 6th, in the Choral Rehearsal Hall at the UCB Campus.
BARESTAGE PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS
Heathers: The Musical
Book and Music by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy
Directed by Elizabeth Mathis
Choreographer Joe Ayers, Music Director Jennifer Huang
Assistant Director Claire Pearson, Dramaturge Claire Newfeld
Produced by Claire Pearson, Production Manager Kacey Mayeda
Must close April 30th
Running Time 2 hours with one Intermission
UCB Choral Hall
Afin Bonanza, Kevin Dong, Susheel Krishnamuryhy, William Smith, Lelan Fernando, Kendall Lee, Colby Lewis and Christian Cotter.
Tickets are available online at tickets.berkeley.edu
More info at BARESTAGE PRODUCTIONS
BARESTAGE FACEBOOK PAGE
MORE LOBBY STILLS AT INSTAGRAM
Photos by Riley Bathauer
ABOUT BARESTAGE - Founded in 1994 by Ben Rimalower, BareStage provides a place for student actors, directors, writers, musicians, and designers to practice and develop their craft in a supportive, pre-professional environment. BareStage produces four full-length shows each season. In addition, BareStage’s musical theatre group, BareTroupe, provides students the opportunity to perform regularly throughout the school year.