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‘Heathers: The Musical’ uses comedy to cope with harsh realities

‘Heathers: The Musical’ uses comedy to cope with harsh realities

Actors and actresses perform a scene from "Heathers: The Musical" by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy.Based on the cult film "Heathers," the rock musical chronicles the toxic romance between Veronica Sawyer and her boyfriend JD. The pair schemes to take down popular bullies who run the halls of their high school - but murderously so. Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 6-7 and Thursday through Saturday, April 12-14 and 2 p.m. on Sundays, April 8 & 15. Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for ages 62 and older, $15 for students with valid ID and $10 for ages 12 and younger. The play is rated R for mature themes, sexuality and language., Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in Denton, Texas, Jeff Woo/DRC

‘Heathers: The Musical’ uses comedy to cope with harsh realities
April 08
22:07 2018

If you see “Heathers: The Musical,” you’ll see slow motion fist fights, simulated sex and ensemble characters whose costumes pay homage to Ducky from “Pretty in Pink” and Madonna.

But if you sit close enough, you’ll feel a drop hit your skin when Ram Sweeney, one of the jock characters, does a spit take.

Co-directed by Brad Speck and Caleb Norris, “Heathers: The Musical” is based on the 1989 cult film “Heathers.”

Veronica Sawyer spends her time with the most popular girls in school: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke and Heather McNamara. As she grows tired of their drama and cruelty, she falls for a mysterious boy named Jason “J.D.” Dean before the two team up to kill the mean popular students and frame the murders as suicide.

Claire Crenshaw, who plays Veronica Sawyer in the musical, knew she wanted the role since first hearing the soundtrack during her senior year of high school.

“The moment I listened to the first song on the album, I knew I wanted to be Veronica,” Crenshaw said.

After performing in the preview show on Thursday night, she said there were moments when she was not expecting the audience to react the way they did.

“I definitely felt more in-character tonight,” Crenshaw said.

Speck chose this 2014 musical after his cast for “The Rocky Horror Show” — which he directed about two years ago— recommended it. He had not seen the original movie at the time, but said he now considers the musical “terribly entertaining.”

“The basic story is the awakening of a young girl who is rather innocent and discovers that the world is not as simple as she’d originally thought,” Speck said. “And being popular is not a goal that’s really worth achieving.”

The production itself also became more complicated when the cast and crew had rehearsal on the day of the Parkland school shooting.

“It’s a very timely piece,” Speck said. “Perhaps a little more timely than I had originally intended.”

The musical addresses serious issues like suicide, violence, date rape and bullying in a comedic high school setting.

“We had to decide why are we going to be a part of bringing this art to life,” said Esperanza “Hope” Scott, who plays Heather Duke.

Scott initially found out about auditions for the musical when a friend asked her to tag along for support.

Instead, she spent $8 at Guitar Center to print the sheet music for “Lately” by Stevie Wonder, which she auditioned with. While she had no desire to play a specific character, she was also one of the few auditioners who did not sing a show tune.

“As soon as I was done, I realized where I was again,” Scott said.

As fate would have it, life seemed to imitate art for Scott whose younger sister was recently bullied at school. In fact, Scott told her parents she does not want her sister to see the show because the incident took place just a week before opening night.

The cast and crew decided it was important to talk about these issues in a comedic context in order to bring attention to them.

“One of the best vehicles we have to talk about it in a safe environment is theatre,” Assistant Director Micha Stevens said.

Stevens herself has had a diverse theatre career. She started dancing at just 3 years old. She created Stark Theatre, a non-profit focused on new scripts written by new playwrights, in Las Vegas where she was also on the board of the Nevada Shakespeare Company.

Stevens came to Denton because her husband, David Bracket, is professor of education at UNT. More recently, she played Queen Margaret in Campus Theater’s production of “Richard III,” also directed by Speck.

“I think as a performer, if you want to extend your career and keep working, you have to learn it all,” Stevens said. “You can’t just be a performer. You have to expand those wings to keep growing as a person and as an artist.”

Stevens said this is a good first musical for young adults getting into theatre because it has a “younger voice,” as it relates to real things happening in the world.

UNT theatre senior Caitlyn Polson portrays Martha Dunnstock, a victim of bullying and fat shaming. Though it was a smaller role in the film, Polson said she is given more depth in the musical.

“You don’t have to have talked to that one girl who sits in the library by herself and eats her little tuna sandwich behind the bookshelves,” Polson said. “Everybody knows who Martha Dunnstock is. Maybe my performance could inspire some people to look closely at the Marthas in their [lives] and try to love them a little more.”

Polson fell in love with the musical during her freshman year of college. The role was easy for her to relate to, having had her own “Martha experience” when she experienced depression due to bullying in high school. Polson said she has not been in many other productions because of a lack of confidence.

“I lose my confidence because I’m thinking people are looking at my weight,” Polson said. “Instead, people are just looking at me.”

All eyes were on Polson when she sang “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” during which Martha mentioned her loneliness and lamented her crush on Ram Sweeney before attempting to commit suicide.

Polson writes in a journal as Martha, which she said is a common acting technique to develop characters. She has also kept personal journals throughout her life.

“I look back at that girl I was freshman year and I cry for her all the time,” Polson said. “I look back to where I was at 13, and I cry for her. I just take those girls that I used to be and I try to do them justice up [on stage].”

Although the show is rich with comedic relief, Speck said it is satisfying for him to balance the comedy and tragedy.

“One of the things I love about theatre, if I can accomplish it, is [to] make you laugh one moment and cry the next,” Speck said. “[‘Heathers’] goes from the best jokes in the show to one of the most serious songs in the show in literally one line.”

To learn more about “Heathers: The Musical” and to buy tickets, visit

Featured Image: Actors and actresses perform a scene from “Heathers: The Musical” by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy. Jeff Woo/DRC

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Camila Gonzalez

Camila Gonzalez

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