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Cast of Heathers the Musical (Photo: Chad Batka)

Cast of Heathers the Musical (Photo: Chad Batka)

Sometimes the only way to address the tragedies life throws at us is to laugh.

In an age of school shootings, teenage violence, and seeming hopelessness, the new Off-Broadway musical version of the 1989 cult-classic film Heathers serves as a reminder to how strong subject matter can be handled with care and, yet, be entertaining.

The poignant anti-teen-violence message was heard loud and clear at New World Stages, as one of the hottest casts rocked out a range of power ballads and solid group numbers in the surprising gem of a score written by Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde.)

I went into the show expecting to see another generic pop/rock musical movie remake, and was completely blown away by the energy and heart that the entire production embodied from start to finish.

Andy Flickman’s direction and Marguerite Derricks’s choreography melded together to depict the evil world of high school, where three girls named Heather rule the roost, terrorizing the unpopular and forcing protagonist Veronica Sawyer to follow their lead or risk certain alienation.

Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica Ryan McCartan as JD and Charissa Hogeland as Heather Chandler in Heathers The Musical (Photo: Chad Batka)

Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica Ryan McCartan as JD and Charissa Hogeland as Heather Chandler in Heathers The Musical (Photo: Chad Batka)

Sawyer, the role originated in the film by Winona Rider, was performed by Barrett Wilbert Weed, who brought vulnerability, power, and tortured sensitivity to the part through her dynamic portrayal. Teamed with co-star Ryan McCarten, as the dangerous Jason “J.D.” Dean, the contrasting and menacing partnership lead the stellar cast through the topsy-turvy story with moments that turned tears to laughter in an instant.

There was not a weak moment or actor in the entire show, and it gave me something I rarely experience anymore — tunes that I left the theater humming. The outright hilarious and campy nature of the piece made it possible to both laugh and cry at such heavy issues that are perhaps more prevalent today than they were when the movie was first released.

The audience was 100 percent committed to the show, and their excitement was contagious — the post-show buzz was electric.

This summed up the beautiful production.

Heathers was a power-packed and moving muscle-car that didn’t rely on flashy gimmicks to succeed. It gave me renewed hope for the future of the pop musical.

Written by Matthew Donnell

Matthew Donnell

A graduate of North Carolina School of the arts, Matthew Donnell is a freelance dancer, actor, clown, instructor, and film maker residing in NYC. After a decade with the Kansas City Ballet, he turned his focus toward musical theater and teaching. He strives to bring the humor of his life into his art in order to promote artistic health for himself and those around him.