Stowe Theater Guild’s production of “Heathers: The Musical” is a darkly comedic journey full of 1980s nostalgia, teenage angst and nearly every difficult aspect of the high-school experience, all of which are still extremely relevant in the contemporary world.
Accompanying such weighty themes as bullying, suicide, sexual assault and gun violence are awe-inspiring performances from a deep and talented ensemble, all of whom display tremendous vocal range and expertly choreographed dance moves.
Just in case the painted backdrops of high school lockers and student council signs don’t fully submerge you into the desired atmosphere, artistic director Brita Down welcomes the audience by throwing brightly colored hair scrunchies into the seats.
Although Down has previously directed in New York City, “Heathers: The Musical” was her debut in that role for Stowe Theater Guild.
“This is the largest-scale production I have directed,” Down said. “I think in terms of directing or choosing to want to direct, it is the type of show where if you like it, you really, really like it and are into it, and it’s one of your favorite shows.
“I just knew that this is the type of show that the people who were going to be involved would be super invested and work really hard to make it the best they can,” Down said.
The level of commitment from the volunteer troupe cannot be understated. Upon auditioning in February, the cast began rehearsing in April, learning and becoming their characters and combining the choreography of Taryn Colby with the outstanding music directed by Stowe Theatre Guild board president Glenn Brown. Leading up to opening night, they only had two weeks to rehearse in the Town Hall Theater itself.
Mackenzie Brown is electric as the protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, and her intensity and passion for the show is palpable.
“I’ve always been attracted to women-heavy ensembles and leading roles because there’s something so powerful about women kicking ass, and that’s exactly what they do in the show,” Brown said. “Veronica has been a dream role of mine for years now. It’s crazy that I’m playing her!”
Equally captivating is Tommy Bergeron’s brilliant portrayal of J.D., who is the antagonist as well as Veronica’s love interest.
“I play quite the opposite of who I normally am in real life,” Bergeron said.
The musical, written by Laurence O’Keefe (“Bat Boy,” “Legally Blonde”) and Kevin Murphy (“Desperate Housewives,” “Reefer Madness”) is based on the 1988 cult film of the same name, which starred Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty.
Veronica, although a charming character, isn’t exactly popular in her high school until a trio of mean girls known as The Heathers — they’re all named that — decide she is useful enough to integrate into their clique. Simultaneously, she meets JD, a mysterious new boy who also happens to despise everything The Heathers stand for. Most teenagers are just trying to fit in, and suddenly Veronica has gone from anonymity to finding herself at the center of every conflict, frequently facing life-changing repercussions.
“This story is so timeless in itself because the topics are still so relevant that it doesn’t need to be modernized,” Bergeron said. “It works the way it is and I think it will for years to come.”
Somehow, during a performance bursting with drama and plot twists, the biggest shocker came after the raucous standing ovation from the Saturday crowd began to subside and the actors had taken their final bows. Dakotah Senesac, who plays Kurt and dates Brown in real life, got down on one knee and proposed to her — in real life. The audience quickly rose back to their feet and began cheering again as she accepted, and the rest of the cast surrounded them with elation.
In an effort to raise awareness for the topics presented in the performance, “Heathers: The Musical” has partnered with the Vermont State Department of Mental Health to help promote their new crisis text line, as well as Center Point Adolescent Treatment Services. Literature is made available during the intermission and after the show.
The show is recommended for mature audiences only.