by Janet I. Martineau
Hang on, Pit and Balcony Community Theatre patrons, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
An extremely bumpy ride that may leave you feeling a little nauseous now and then. But what's this...did I hear myself laughing at perhaps inappropriate times?
Tonight P&B opens perhaps its most risky show ever, "Heathers The Musical," based on the popular 1988 cult film. This 2014 musical adaptation literally gives new meaning to the words satire, dark comedy or black comedy. In particular satire. And it doesn't hesitate to offend in several places. To sum it up is tricky because if you haven't seen either the movie or read about the musical, we don't want to take away the "fun" of discovering its many plot twists and turns, exaggerations and overall weirdness.
So here goes. It is set in a 1980s small town high school in Ohio, ruled by three snooty mean girls all with the first name of Heather and a couple of bullying sports jocks. An outsider named Veronica (played by Danessa Hellus) decides she will make every attempt to join that upper-class clique and virtually sells her soul to do so, aided by her star-crossed lover (Isaac Wood) and her excellence at writing all the required documents the storyline demands. In the course of the show it deals, both satirically and tenderly, with teen angst, suicide, murder, bullying, homophobia, fat girls, geeky boys, raging hormones and the afterlife. Tossed in there is the notion that the world would be a better place if we got rid of all the mean people by any means necessary. But when our cast tries this, they realize the attempt is futile.
So....how is this production? Superb, thanks to the steady hand of director Chad William Baker and his cast and crew. First the crew. The look and sound are outstanding -- the outrageous costumes by Eleesa Harrison, the rock music direction by Sara Taylor, and the fight choreography (one of them wonderfully done in slow motion) by Claudia Marsh, along with the lighting and sound. And Baker pretty much gets a solid performance from each of the cast members.
Hellus has always been a tour de force on the stage, although in the dress rehearsal we saw her voice sounded a little raspy and her diction a little unclear because of it. Her solos are filled with raging emotion. Wood is on target as a menacing coiled rattlesnake. But his solo amuses -- "Freeze Your Brain," an ode to the Slurpee. And when he and Hellus team up on " Seventeen" tears well up in our eyes. Spencer Beyerlein and Gage Webster as the bad boy jocks have it totally nailed down, as I recall from my high school days. And when they team up on the duet "Blue"...well it really is blue as it details a certain part of the male anatomy that is just itching for action. Both in its words and in the physical action of these two.
Audience faces may turn red. Likewise the number "My Dead Gay Son" is a toughie. You just got to keep your mind open with this show's satirical highlights. Alena Ramos is terrific as the obligatory fat girl who doesn't realize she's being set up and made fun of. Her solo "Kindergarten Boyfriend" is just an absolute heartbreaker and sung with every ounce of emotion Ramos could muster. Shelby Coleman as an do-gooder adult who actually makes things worse delivers incredibly strong vocals in "Shine a Light" and throughout as an annoying presence. Erica as "lead" Heather Chandler, Danielle Katsoulos as Heather Duke and Rhianna Holley as Heather McNamara are not quite there yet ....just not quite mean enough in their deliveries. But Holley comes up with a wonderful solo called "Lifeboat" that shows her acting potential. A couple of minuses are the choreography which has a same look to it and the too-high boxy set.