‘Heathers’ Has ‘Extremely High’ Energy, No Weak Links in Cast

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Collaborations among theater companies is a growing trend in the industry. It has many benefits including incorporating the strength of two theaters into one production. Splitting costs as well as revenue can help make a production possible that otherwise may have been difficult for one theater to mount.

Such a collaboration is currently underway as the Millennial Theatre Co. and The Hopewell Theatre join forces to present “Heathers: The Musical.” Written by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, “Heathers: The Musical” is a high powered black comedy dealing with issues of bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault and school violence.

The current production at the Hopewell is very ably directed by Millennial director, Joe Asente. This is the second go-round for the Millennial with this show having first produced it as their initial opening production in 2016.

The show takes place at Westerberg High School in fictitious Sherwood, Ohio and centers around Veronica Sawyer, “new girl on the block.” The school is ruled by three girls, all known as the Heathers. And whatever the Heathers say – goes!

Although innocently pulled into the web of the trio, Veronica soon realizes who and what the trio stands for. Along with boyfriend, J.D., she sets out to shatter the hold the trio has on the student body and the school. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned thrusting the audience, and Veronica, into a hair-raising musical ride.

Veronica, played by Natalina Kazimir, is the main thread of the show appearing in almost every scene with demanding vocal numbers on top of a ton of dialogue. Her performance was first rate in every respect. Kazimir’s grasp of the character was unflinching and she is the powerhouse that drives the show. J.D., her boyfriend (Daniel Gordiejew) is equal to the task of staying toe to toe with her throughout the production. Either one could have over shadowed the other but both actors held their own and make a dynamic pair especially in their duets.

The three Heathers make for a powerful threesome. They command the stage with each appearance with Heather Chandler(Lauren Jones) creating a character that the audience can really love to hate. The other two Heathers, McNamara(Brianna Rae Quinn) and Duke(Kaleigh Ceci), show distinctly different characters from Chandler so we don’t get a “cookie-cutter” trio. All three Heathers possess exceptional vocal quality making their big number, “Candy Store,” a real show-stopper.

Every school has their football jocks that are characterized as big and stupid. Westerberg has Ram and Kurt. Played convincingly by Sam Gregory and Jacob Nash, respectively, both actors make the most of each time on stage and paint character pictures that I am sure people can identify with from past high school years.

This is a large cast especially for the relatively small Hopewell stage. But Asente has staged the show eloquently, fitting everybody on stage without the sensation of it being over crowded. Talent exudes from every cast member be they a lead or a member of the ensemble. The vocal caliber of this company is something every director can only dream of in many cases. The energy is extremely high and there isn’t a weak link anywhere to be seen.

Besides, “Candy Store,” other notable musical numbers were “Freeze Your Brain,” “Dead Girl Walking,” “I Say No,” and “Kindergarten Boyfriend.”

The set is a two-tiered triumph. The single brick-like set is versatile enough to be anywhere in the school: a gymnasium, an auditorium, a hallway, anything with the addition of moveable pieces to add accent and focus. Asente places his actors well to make full use of every space and to creatively switch focus between stage level scenes and second level scenes.

Lighting has been enhanced at the Hopewell for this production with the addition of LEDs that help add much needed production value along with the ability to better isolate small scenes.

Costuming was relevant to the era and added tremendous color and flare to the production, J.D. in all black provided a stark and effective contrast to all of the other characters. Canned music is used since there is no space for even a small band with this production. Unfortunately there were times when the music obliterated lyrics and underscoring was, at times, so loud it covered dialogue.

Although extremely well done, “Heathers: The Musical,” as a show, has some short comings. The most overwhelming concern of the script is although Veronica is involved in several very dark activities in the show, there is seemingly no accountability for her actions by the final curtain.

In addition to that the message sent on some issues in the show could have been better conveyed from a more suggestive writing style rather than the direct route that was taken.

Although this particular musical may not fit everyone’s personal preference it is well staged, well acted, and if you are looking for an energy filled experience to give you a lift, this is the one to see.

NOTE: ADULT THEMES AND LANGUAGE

“Heathers: The Musical” will continue
Sat. Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Jan. 16 at 2 p.m.
Fri. Jan. 21
Sat. Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Jan. 23 at 2 p.m.

Pictured: Lauren Jones and Natalina Kazimir play Heather Chandler and Veronica in Millennial Theatre Co.’s production of “Heathers: The Musical.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.