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TheatreLAB & Firehouse Theatre bring cult classic ‘Heathers’ to the stage this summer

MadelyneAshworth | June 29, 2017

Welcome to the candy store, where as in any typical high school, you’ll find alcohol, homework deadlines, sex, homecoming rallies, and murder. Yes, murder.

This summer, Firehouse Theatre and TheatreLAB is putting up Heathers: The Musical, written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, a cult rock musical based on the 1989 classic film Heathers, starring Winona Ryder.

The show depicts the life of 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer, a beautiful, smart misfit with a talent for forgery who finds herself in the most powerful, popular clique at school: “The Heathers”, led by the “Demon Queen of High School” Heather Chandler. While she adjusts to her new life of popularity, a new romance with the mysterious, brooding JD Adams threatens to upend the social hierarchy by any means necessary.

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

“It’s basically high school gone dark,” Debra Clinton said, director of Heathers: The Musical. “It went on to spawn a lot of movies that tell the same kind of story about disenfranchised teens who are unhappy and kind of tormented, and what they do about it. This is the classic, ‘let’s get revenge on the popular people.’”

This musical will take audiences straight back to high school, as every type of person is represented: the jock, the nerd, the hipster, the stoner, the Queen Bee, the misfit, and everyone in between.

“It’s such a fun, energetic dark comedy, but for me it’s really about acceptance,” Billy Christopher Maupin said, who plays multiple roles in Heathers including Ram’s Dad, JD’s Dad, and Coach. “It’s awful being a teenager, it sucks. It’s hard.”

Since the cast primarily features characters who are in high school, a diverse range of actors were accepted for each role, including actors who are actually 17 years old. As an edgy, contemporary musical, creating a diverse cast is more accessible and even encouraged.

“The writing is incredible, the empowerment is great, and there are so many great roles for women, and for young women especially,” Maupin said.

Photo credit: Tom Topinka 

While Clinton explained that the casting process was lengthy, finding the right people was key for a smooth rehearsal process.

“There are a lot of faces you haven’t seen in Richmond, and several people making their professional debut with this show,” Clinton said. “To be able to give local people opportunity that we haven’t seen yet, that’s cool.”

While this production will honor the cult classic film and reflect many of the ’80s movie tropes, Clinton chose to set the story in a more timeless setting.

“What I was going for is a ‘it could be then, it could be now.’ I find that the story is very relevant,” Clinton said. “My aesthetic is graphic novel, comic book, larger than life a little bit. I think it’s really reflected in both the set design and the costume design.”

The production team worked hard to create a musical that doesn’t copy previous productions, but one that fits this particular cast and setting.

“They’ve really made this production our production, and really given us the opportunity to create and find and make the Richmond production rather than bringing something else to Richmond,” Maupin said. “It’s very much of here and of now and of this group of artists, which makes it really exciting and fun.”

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka 

Although the musical includes a great deal of mature material, such as suicide, gun violence, bullying and graphic sexual activity, its message is a poignant one that most people will relate to.

“Those are sort of timeless issues. High school is a funny place because you’re figuring out who you are, you’re not always brave enough to be who you are, and people have a need to control and be in charge,” Clinton said. “It deals with issues of power.”

Although cast and director alike recognize the heavy material involved, ultimately they want to convey the show’s fun, fast-paced and exciting delivery, albeit with a zany, unconventional plot.

“It’s like everybody’s high school, but obviously amplified because there are bombs and guns and poison, but oddly enough in a really comedic way,” Maupin said.

To see Heathers: The Musical, head to Firehouse Theatre at 1609 W. Broad St. for their formal opening on July 1 until July 16. Limited tickets for preview performances are available this upcoming weekend. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Firehouse Theatre website.