Millennial Theatre Company’s ‘Heathers’ slays at Hopewell Theatre
YOUNGSTOWN — Millennial Theatre Company’s production of “Heathers the Musical” is a killer.
A talented cast filled the stage with songs and snark, and the opening night audience filled the Hopewell Theatre with laughter and applause.
“Heathers” is based on the 1989 movie of the same name about an Ohio high school ruled by three tyrannical teen girls all named Heather. Veronica Sawyer’s skills as a forger allow her entry into their clique, but when she runs afoul of the lead Heather, Veronica teams with J.D., a rebellious new kid at Westerburg High School, to take care of the Heather situation — permanently.
The only problem is J.D. doesn’t want to stop at just one “suicide.”
The musical was created by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, but the best lines in the book are straight from Daniel Waters’ highly quotable screenplay. I’d argue it’s one of the best films about high school ever made.
But O’Keefe and Murphy make some tweaks to the storyline to create something that works better on stage, and they’ve written several appealing songs that draw as much on musical theater songcraft as they do pop or rock.
MTC founder Joe Asente wears many hats for this production — director and music director (the cast performs to prerecorded tracks, not a live band) as well as set, costume and lighting designer.
He makes great use of the performance space. Little additions, like a bank of lockers, turn the utilitarian design into a high school hallway, and the space works as everything from a funeral site to a cow pasture.
A second level is used as a perch where the victims become a Greek chorus hilariously commenting on the action below. And Asente even adds some special effects for the “explosive” finale.
The costumes for the main characters will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the film, and the ensemble’s closing is filled with ’80s pop culture references, from MTV to the “Friday the 13th” movies.
As good as the technical aspects of the show are, the real strength of the production is the cast — and not just the leads.
Jacob Nash and Sam Gregory are perfect as brutal, dim jocks Kurty Kelly and Ram Sweeney, respectively. There’s an energy and a physicality to the performance that makes them wholly believable as longtime “bros” and best buds.
Maybe the best vocal performance of the night came from Ben Doss, who plays multiple characters but gets the second act off to a rousing start as Kurt’s father singing “My Dead Gay Son.” Courtney Martin also plays multiple characters, but she really shines on “Shine a Light” as Miss Fleming, a hippie teacher who maybe loves the television cameras a bit too much.
Natalina Kazimir and Daniel Gordiejew are great together as Veronica and J.D. Kazimir has a big voice, although she occasionally was overwhelmed on the numbers that also featured the ensemble, but she conveyed the inner conflict in a character who is pulled in multiple directions, both seduced and repulsed by the behavior of the Heathers and by J.D.’s methods for dealing with them and their alpha peers.
Kazimir’s and Gordiejew’s vocals meshed beautifully on songs like “Dead Girl Walking” and “Our Love Is God,” and Gordiejew’s first number, “Freeze Your Brain,” was a standout.
Lauren Jones delivered Heather Chandler’s withering putdowns with just the right amount of viciousness, and all three Heathers (Jones, Kaleigh Ceci and Brianna Rae Quinn) got a chance to demonstrate their vocal talents together on “Candy Store” and individually.
As Martha Dunstock, Sarah Kinser gets a heart-wrenching solo number with “Kindergarten Boyfriend.”
Opening night was maybe a couple seats shy of a sell-out, and I wouldn’t waste time waiting to get tickets for the remaining four performances.