Heathers the musical? Yeah, that happened. Making its New York City debut at a Joe’s Pub concert reading this week and starring Hair‘s Annaleigh Ashford and West Side Story‘s Jeremy Jordan, this new-show-based-on-an-old-film (heard that one before?) is worth knowing about for one reason: It’s going to be your next favorite musical. This dark fable of a murderously mean high school clique doesn’t seem like automatic musical material… except that totally does. Here’s the breakdown.
It’s not like the movie. In a good way.
The whole thing about Heathers is its tone. The film has a deadpan seriousness that might not have translated to the stage, so the musical is more of a spoof. This works because so much of eighties culture is a ready-made punchline to begin with. The actors don’t need to sing a note; the shoulder-padded, ruffled, high-ponytailed costumes are hilarious all by themselves. And the show’s creators recognized that the most important thing here, beyond the original film’s dark intentions, was to laugh. Plus, it keeps to the film’s themes in other ways: This is a spoof not just the over-the-top characters and the insane things they do, but of the entire teen genre, the profundity with which 17-year-olds view their lives, and the entire decade.
Even as a fetus, it looks pretty good.
Musicals in their latent form can be scary—full of wonky extra songs and characters that need to be cut and uneven, not-sure-how-we’re-casting-this-yet performances. That’s really not the case with Heathers. This presentation was a bare-bones concert reading, and everything is in place. Its hitting all the right emotional notes in occasionally epic fashion. (The unpopular girl’s late-in-the-evening ballad as she contemplates suicide is a complete win—and a perfectly-timed break from all the snarking.) And even without a set or a fully-formed book, it’s a totally enjoyable evening of theater whose good qualities far out number the things that need tinkering.
The songs don’t stink.
A dad singing an homage to his dead gay son. (Who wasn’t gay. But whatever.) A pep rally cheer about annihilating a rival high school when students are actually dying left and right. An ode to to the Slurpee. The songs, composed by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, are this show’s real asset. They’re tuneful without being saccharine, and appropriately referential to contemporary music without falling off the dreaded Cliff of Faceless Pastiche. In short, you might not just want to watch this musical. You might want to listen to it on your iPod, too.
Even the stage directions are funny.
We know, we know. We’re talking about things that sort of fade into the background once a show is staged. (Or are we? Could we be so lucky as to hear these things on the stage?) But hear us out. At a concert reading, you’re being asked to judge a show on its most basic elements, and Monday night, someone was actually reading the stage directions aloud. So they were pretty important to the whole experience. Not-in-the-least because they’re about as good an indicator of overall book quality as anything we got that night. Not only were they awesome and well-written, but they had the room in stitches. So. If the rest of the book is anything like the stage directions, well, things are looking pretty bad-ass.
And oh, by the way, the boy is cute as fuck.
Actually, all the boys we saw Monday night were cute. But—sorry, boys—none of them were cuter than Jeremy Jordan, playing the loveable completely unhinged rebel JD. God only knows if he’ll be around for future productions of Heathers, but just the fact that Jordan was cast in the first place says the producers know what they’re doing. I like where their heads are at.