In the 30 years since graduation, I’ve tried hard to block out memories of the daily torture that was the high school experience--the cliques of mean girls and dumb jocks, the taunts and bullying.
Well, those horrors all came thundering back last weekend at the Broward Center in Slow Burn Theatre’s production of “Heathers the Musical.”
The Off Broadway hit, based on the 1989 cult film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, is less dark comedy and more campy collision, featuring an R-rated book and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy.
Veronica Sawyer (Abby Perkins) is the brainy and beautiful teen misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful school clique at Westerberg High, the Heathers. Heather Chandler (Leah Sessa), Heather Gay (Heather McNamara) and Heather Duke (Cristina Flores) sadistically rule the school, tormenting Martha (Stephanie Trull) and the other misfits, and Veronica becomes a willing party.
Along the way, a brooding transfer student, J.D. (Bruno Faria), connects with Veronica and together they become entangled in a twisted plot to knock off the mean girls and their complicit enablers.
While the show could stand some editing, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission, the ‘80s inflected musical numbers are fun with titles such as “Freeze Your Brain,” sung at the 7-11 where Veronica and J.D. meet over a Slurpie, and “Prom or Hell?” Veronica’s opening to Act II.
Perkins soars as Veronica and Sessa, Gay and Flores are delicious as the sadistic Heathers. Faria, a recent FAU grad who first grabbed our attention as the smoldering Clyde Barrow in Slow Burn’s production of “Bonnie & Clyde” last season, is equally sensational as the school sociopath.
The supporting cast also excels, most notably the fantastic physical comedy of buff Domenic Servidio (Kurt Kelly) during an opening fight with J.D., and the hilarious duet sung by Noah Levine and Ben Sandomir, the dads who reveal their own forbidden love in “My Dead Gay Son.”
One of the most touching moments comes late in the second act during Trull’s show-stopping “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” a song that is guaranteed to touch everyone in the audience as Martha naively sings of the childhood crush who has grown up and now mocks her.
Under the musical direction of Manny Schvartzman, the ensemble belts out the many chorus numbers, another trademark of the spunky company’s productions. All of the production numbers are accentuated by director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater’s signature high energy ‘80s dance moves, perfectly matched to the period and tone of the show.
As director, Fitzwater also milks every comedic moment, blunting the very serious issues of bullying a bit, but never at the expense of the larger life lessons that are never lost on the audience.
Playing to a sold out house on opening night, this show promises to be one of the hottest tickets this summer in South Florida. Make sure to escape back to Westerberg High before the “semester” ends on June 26.
Slow Burn Theatre presents “Heathers the Musical” through June 26 in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $45 at BrowardCenter.org.