RISING SUN — High school is tough, but at Veronica Sawyer’s Westerburg High School in “Heathers — The Musical,” you may end up dead, or laughing uncontrollably. Both comedy and drama are expertly blended in another stunning performance from the talented cast and crew at Streetlamp Productions in Rising Sun.
“Heathers” follows the plot of the 1989 cult film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Veronica (portrayed in this show by Darby McLaughlin) is a bit of a loner who enters a new realm of ups and downs after befriending and later abandoning the three most popular girls in school, the Heathers. After a not-so-accidental murder of the leader of the Heathers, Heather Chandler (played by Sydney Phipps,) Veronica must figure out her place in the darkness and light of Westerburg High School.
The show is a modern one, and a provocative one at times, but director Shane Jensen knew he wanted to direct this show from the moment he saw it.
“I got to see it when it opened off Broadway, and I was already a big fan of the movie,” Jensen said. “I just thought to myself that I had to do this one day. It is an angsty, adult type show, but I knew in my mind I was going to do it eventually.”
The black box-style theatre at Streetlamp brings you right into the action, and this musical is full of it, with incredibly catchy and bouncy songs, as well as moments of shock and awe, both of the morbid and humorous variety.
“In a space like this, you can show and feel a lot of emotion,” Jensen said. “You feel very connected.”
It’s immediately clear a lot of heart and talent went into this production, as the lighting is perfect for the setting and the sparse set dressing accomplishes its task at each turn, and once again, the casting and performances of this show are wonderful. All four leads of Darby McLaughlin as Veronica, Josh Yannuzzi as JD, Mia Coulbourne as Martha and Sydney Phipps as Heather Chandler each bring a power and absolute commitment to their character.
“This show is multifaceted,” said Phipps, “You have sex appeal and suicide; coping with loss and bullying. There are so many dark avenues, but they’re punctuated by the comedy. There’s a million ways for you to connect in this show.”
The show certainly does not shy away from portraying darkness and certain violent subjects on stage. Aside from the universal enthusiasm to perform in this particular musical, each cast member agreed that there are a lot of heavy issues tackled in the show.
“I learned how much bullying can impact someone and how far it can push them,” Coulbourne said. “It was terrifying to go through that process. It’s a big reality and people can definitely pull that from the show.”
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to get bullied in high school,” added McLaughlin. “It opened my eyes to things I don’t understand.”
But for all the depictions of suicide and death, the show is just as much about how people cope and deal with these issues, and how sometimes those coping methods can get twisted. The show is as layered as the songs. One minute you’re bopping along to the Peter Gabriel-esque “Big Fun,” and the next you’re hearing a dark and tortured love song between two damaged high school kids. But “Heathers” has lessons to teach, and it is absolutely the real deal.
“This show is the perfect blend of happy and sad,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a perfect representation of dark comedy, but if my mother can like it, everyone can.”
“It’s the high school experience, and we’ve all been there,” Jensen added. “What would you do to fit in, and is it the right place to fit in? That’s what I’m asking. It’s a lot about reflection and memory for many who will come to see it.”
What’s really amazing is that this talented cast and crew have come from a variety of jobs, places, and backgrounds to come together and create a show both darkly hilarious and movingly powerful. And that, according to McLaughlin, is the hook.
“The diversity of everyone here is stunning. We have people who have come from all over and they’ve made some great theatrical art. That’s what audiences will hopefully see — the effort we put into it all.”
”Heathers” opens at 8 p.m. on Feb. 9 at Streetlamp Productions, and plays Feb. 10 at 8 and Feb. 11 at 2. (This first weekend is sold out.)
The show continues at 8 p.m. on Feb. 16 and 17, and 2 p.m. on Feb. 18.
Tickets are available at streetlampproductions.org. $18 for adults, and $15 for seniors and students.