Review: Heathers the Musical presented by the Mitchell Old Company – ARA Darling Quarter Theatre (NSW)

Review by Justin Clarke

Book, Music and Lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, based on the film written by Daniel Waters, Directed by Jake Tyler

Directed by Jake Tyler, the Mitchell Old Company’s Heathers explodes with colour in the intimate setting of the ARA Darling Quarter Theatre to bring audiences powerhouse performers in a buzzing production of this cult musical.

Heathers the Musical, based on the 1989 film, follows Veronica Sawyer (Tiegan Denina) finding her way in the dark clique of the Heathers: Heather Chandler (Sabrina Kirkham), Heather Duke (Kira Leiva) and Heather McNamara (Laura Dawson). Desperate to find some way to fit into the ‘thunderdome’ of high school, Veronica turns a blind eye to the Heathers’ vitriolic abuse of their school mates. Longing for a way out, she turns to the mysterious, rebellious outsider, Jason “J.D” Dean (Jerrod Smith). What starts as a means of revenge against the Heathers’ iron fist rule soon turns into a dark misanthropic tale of murder, with Veronica struggling to keep her classmates’ ‘lifeboat’ from sinking. 

Focusing on dredging up the shadowy undertones of Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s score, Tyler Tyler brings out the mask young people put on to stay alive in a volatile, ever-changing world. With mass shootings becoming the norm in America, bullying growing ever darker online, and mental health issues now commonplace in our discussions, Heathers still resonates.

Jasmine Rizk’s lighting design brings a world of colour and depth to the production. The three Heathers’ and Veronica’s costumes pop on the intimate set, with red, green, yellow and blue reflected in the chaotic lighting of the higher energy scenes. Rizk uses shadows effectively for the introduction of the titular trio, making for a crowd-pleasing entrance.

Despite the colourful and high energy of the show itself, there are much meatier themes to be found here.

Tiegan Denina as Veronica holds absolute star power. She demands attention whenever she is on stage and chews through Veronica’s dialogue to find her quirkiness, innocence, and dark desires. Denina’s range throughout the production is tested through Murphy and O’Keefe’s demanding score, but Denina handles it with ease. She elevates the production to be worthy of the Sydney stage.

Jerrod Smith plays with the dark undertones of the score as J D Showing his tortured nature and disgust at the world around him, Smith brings gritty determination in ‘Freeze Your Brain’.

Sabrina Kirkham revelled in in the danger that is Heather Chandler, while Kira Leiva brought hidden pain and frustration to Heather Duke. Leiva, however, seems to fizzle out by the end due to her character arc never fully being resolved. The most interesting to watch of the three Heathers however was Laura Dawson’s Heather McNamara. With hilarious comic-timing and facial expressions, you couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Dawson’s rendition of ‘Lifeboat’ was performed with a passion that elevated the songs meaning to new heights.

Writers Murphy and O’Keefe made a few small changes to the songs of Heathers, and with a cult musical this can be divisive. The song ‘Blue’ was replaced by ‘You’re Welcome’ performed by Jake Vollbon’s Kurt Kelly and Sam Welsh’s Ram Sweeney. This bold choice revealed the dark and twisted nature of the two characters and brought depth to the predatory actions of the two young men. Vollbon and Welsh have an absolute blast on stage together and revel in the didactic nature of the stereotypical jocks, whilst also making a comment on date rape and toxic masculinity.

It might have been easy for Jayd Luna’s Martha Dunnstock to be lost in a smaller role. However, her performance of ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ was explosive and sent tingles down your spine as she showed such a strength of control in her belts.

A special mention goes to Michele Lansdown’s Ms Fleming and her ability to hold a note that literally would make your jaw drop.

Tyler’s direction uses every dimension the theatre has to offer, but can sometimes feel like it pushes the restraints of what is effective in the space. The passionately intense ’Dead Girl Walking’ brings Veronica and JD’s intimacy from the back to the very front of the stage, showing that Tyler isn’t afraid to confront an audience. Jayd Luna’s powerhouse number does not have the same effect, since she was hidden by the lighting rig because of the height of the set piece she stands on.

As is the way with any smaller theatre, the effectiveness and power that comes from an intimate space can be difficult to execute. One being that every minor flaw can be made visible. This was the case with delayed lighting changes and broken, flickering lights, which caused some distraction. With the band coming in a bit too overpowering at the start, it took a scene or two for the levels to be adjusted and the rich dialogue to find its way through.

Despite the colourful and high energy of the show itself, there are much meatier themes to be found here. With a stellar cast, led by a voraciously talented lead, Heathers is a rollercoaster ride that is made for fans of modern musicals, and those seeking a night of high energy entertainment. How very!

Photo Credit: Nicholas Gomez

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mitchell Old Company’s Heathers the Musical plays at the ARA Darling Quartre Theatre from February 8th to Saturday 5th March. Tickets available at Ticketek using the link here

You can hear our full podcast episode with Tiegan Denina discussing the show here

CREATIVES
Producer/Music Director Mitchell Old
Director Jake Tyler
Choreographer Rheanna Hindmarch
Resident Choreographer Gelina Enriquez
Lighting Designer Jasmine Rizk
Stage Manager Hannah Ribbons
Production Assistant Yannis Low
Assistant Stage Manager Cassie Stokan
Sound Operator Emma-Jade Dwyer

CAST
Veronia Sawyer Tiegan Denina
J.D Jerrod Smith
Heather Chandler Sabrina Kirkham
Heather Duke Kira Leiva
Heather McNamara Laura Dawson
Kurt Kelly Jake Vollbon
Ram Sweeney Sam Welsh
Martha Dunnstock Jayd Luna
Ms Fleming Michele Lansdown
Ensemble Gelina Enriquez, Jordan Predl, Danika Rojas, Manu Sarswat, Ryan Webber, Zachary Aleksander, Justin Rhynne, Serena Tramontana

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