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Heathers: The Musical at Ritz Theatre Company is “Big Fun”

by Amber Kusching

A shoulder-padded, scrunchie-rules, Westerberg High-wearing junta: Heather, Heather and Heather, the hottest and cruelest girls in all of Ohio. But misfit Veronica Sawyer, who was graciously taken under their wing, rejects their evil regime for a new boyfriend, the dark and sexy stranger J.D., who plans to put the Heathers in their place—six feet under. 


Heathers: The Musical, with book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, is a darkly comedic stage-adaption based on the cult-classic 1989 film starring Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer and Christian Slater as J.D. If you are a lover of the movie, O’Keefe and Murphy’s version pays homage to the film and the 80’s in a nostalgic way. 


The Ritz’ production features a simple but effective set, designed by William Bryant, clad with plaid panels mirroring the Heathers’ iconic skirts and framing an otherwise open stage which production director and choreographer Roberta Curless utilizes skillfully. Curless’ blocking and choreography, like the set design, are straightforward and not over the top, but effortlessly add to the storytelling of the play. 


Curless’ greatest accomplishment with this production is her casting. Filled with skilled vocalists, strong movers, and committed actors, this production is overflowing with talent. From the ensemble members to the stars of the show, each actor embodied their character in a fun and fantastic way. 


The thing that makes The Ritz’ production really stand out is the actors’ voices. Under the musical direction of Benita Farmer, this cast blows the audience away with bellowing belts and ridiculous riffs. Each actor has an amazing voice, and the harmonious blend is impeccable from big numbers like “Beautiful” to the intimate vocalizations of Veroica and J.D.’s duet “Seventeen”. The songs in this musical are well-known to modern musical theatre lovers, and this cast does not disappoint. 


With an entrance as epic as the Heathers’ reputation, the audience expects big things, and boy, do the Heathers not disappoint. Katie McQuail (Heather Chandler), Olivia Manlove (Heather Duke) and Makayla Weselinski (Heather McNamara) fit so perfectly together as the trendy trio. Their characterizations are on point, their dynamic is dynamite, and their song “Candy Store” is a highlight of the show.  


Some other standout performances include Kathryn Pepe Coleman’s heartfelt rendition of Martha Dunstock’s love ballad “Kindergarten Boyfriend” and Mark Gollihur and Geoff Gollihur’s comedic duet “My Dead Gay Son”. 


And of course, Heathers: The Musical can’t be a success without a strong dynamic duo playing the leading Veronica Sawyer and J.D, and Rachel Grodek and Nicky Eldridge are just that.  Elridge plays the mysterious and tragic J.D. with suave swagger, and his facial expressions and mannerisms are lively. His song “Freeze Your Brain” is a highlight in act one. Grodek’s voice is impressive and powerful. Her belting in “I Say No” induces goosebumps, and she perfectly embodies Veronica’s struggle with the power of her popularity, the demands of her relationship with J.D., and her devotion to her friendship with the outcast Martha. 


Rounding out the cast are Zachary R Taylor and Yeshua Irizarry as the air-headed bullies Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney, Shayna Lorraine Murray as Ms. Fleming /Veronica’s Mom, and an ensemble featuring William Reid, Michael Matteo, Julie Byrne, Marissa Knipfer, Amanda Barrish, and Rachel Romean. 


Like the song in act one states, Heathers: The Musical is “big fun”. Heathers: The Musical runs now through May 26th. For more information about the show and to purchase tickets, please visit www.ritztheatreco.org/heathers


As a note: with themes of teen suicide and sexual assault, this musical has mature, and possibly triggering, content.



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