Review: ‘Heathers: The Musical’ at Dominion Stage

High school never changes. This is abundantly clear in Heathers: The Musical. With book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, this edgy and fun musical comes to Dominion Stage under the purview of Director Sam Nystrom. Based on the 1988 cult classic movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, written by Daniel Waters, Heathers promises to engage younger audiences while reserving a few generation-specific laughs for audience members who are old enough to understand the 80s references.

The cast of 'Heathers.' Photo courtesy of Dominion Stage.
The cast of ‘Heathers.’ Photo courtesy of Dominion Stage.

The plot revolves around the nerdy intellectual, Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Cooley), who is unintentionally drafted into the popular clique—comprised of three girls who are all named “Heather”—due to her unmatched skill in forging hall passes, report cards and any other document a high school student may need. As she experiences this rise in her social fortunes, a mysterious, trench-coated loner named J.D. Dean (Matt Calvert) arrives at Westerberg High School and sweeps her off her feet. What follows is a dark comedy that emphasizes the brutality in relationships that can arise between teenagers and the animosity that develops between them.

Rebecca Cooley is a fantastic Veronica, her voice is powerful and consistent and plays well with Matt Calvert’s J.D. They both shine in the raunchy number “Dead Girl Walking” as well as the ominous “Our Love is God”. Both possess the vocal talents and acting chops to make this a truly special production.

The supporting characters are also strong. Patricia Rupinen’s Heather Chandler and Amanda C. Herman’s Martha Dunnstock are stand-outs. Herman’s performance of the somewhat ridiculous “Kindergarten Boyfriend” was one of the highlights of the musical. Meanwhile, Rupinen delivers a mean-spirited and snotty performance as the heartless queen of the Heathers, Heather Chandler. Likewise, Jennifer Rose is appropriately expressionless as the robotic Heather Duke. Hana Tawil rounds out the clique with a coquettish and manic delivery of the character of Heather McNamara, whose wonderful performance of her solo “Lifeboat” brings some seriousness to the musical.

The cast of 'Heathers' at Dominion Stage. Photo courtesy of Dominion Stage.
The cast of ‘Heathers’ at Dominion Stage. Photo courtesy of Dominion Stage.

The ensemble numbers were particularly well done. The teen party number “Big Fun” was energetic and infectious. The funeral of football players Ram Sweeney (Jon Simmons) and Kurt Kelly (Morgan DeHart) was another high point. Rishabh Bajekal (who plays Ram’s Dad, as well as Big Bud Dean and Coach Ripper) teams up with David Weinraub (also playing multiple parts as Kurt’s Dad, Veronica’s Dad and Principal Gowan) in a hilarious rendition of “My Dead Gay Son”. Colleen Robinson rounds out the non-ensemble cast members as the mercurial Ms. Fleming and picks up an additional role at Veronica’s mom.

Choreographer Jolene Vettese is to be commended for utilizing the space in a way that makes each cast member stand out as their own character. Due to the strength of the ensemble, the group dance numbers work out very well on the set designed by Andrew Regiec. The set design is very clever, making full use of the small performance space. Each scene is accompanied by a corresponding set piece which can be reversed or flipped to create the facade of lockers in Westerberg High when the scene is completed. The large screens were a particularly enlightened element. Costume Designers Barbara Esquibel and Mark Hidalgo add the appropriate finishing touches to reflect the hyper-80s setting.

The cast of 'Heathers' at Dominion Stage. Photo courtesy of Dominion Stage.
The cast of ‘Heathers’ at Dominion Stage. Photo courtesy of Dominion Stage.

Heathers is accompanied by a live orchestra, conducted by Blakeman Brophy. For this fast-paced production, live music adds that extra layer of energy and emphasis where it is needed.

Heathers: The Musical is THE musical to experience to ring in 2019. The strong leads and ensemble make this production at Dominion Stage a must-see for fans of the movie and for anyone who loves a good dark comedy. Tickets for this one will surely go fast, so don’t miss your chance to see this rocket-powered homage to 80s teens.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Heathers: The Musical plays through January 26, 2019, at Dominion Stage performing at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two—2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. Tickets can be purchased online.