Teen suicide, murder, sex, bullying and social isolation — it sounds like strange material for a musical. But when the source material is the 1988 cult hit movie Heathers, it all makes perfect sense.
And it all amounts to a weirdly entertaining, and very darkly comical, musical romp in Winnipeg Studio Theatre's production.
Like the movie it's based on, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe's 2010 tuner focuses on the horrible clique of three girls named Heather (played here by Jenna Hill, Brittany Hunter and Andrea Macasaet) who terrorize an Ohio high school as its most popular trio.
They invite geeky Veronica (Julie Lumsden) into their inner circle. But when she connects with a brooding loner named J.D. (Matthew Fletcher) who despises the school's clique system, things get a little homicidal.
A lot of it's played for pitch-black comedy. The Heathers' big song, Candy Store, riffs on just how awful teenagers can be to each other. My Dead Gay Son, beautifully performed by Simon Miron as the dad of a high school football star, somehow manages to make a number about death and teen ostracization into an ebullient musical number.
Which is not to say that this musical tries to make a laughing matter of issues that are, quite literally, deadly serious. There are genuinely poignant moments, like Veronica and J.D.'s soaring duet Seventeen — a wistful lament for youth from kids who seem sure there must be a better way to live. Or Kindergarten Boyfriend, performed with gusto by Jillian Willems as Veronica's nerdy friend Martha, which also touches on the theme of lost youthful innocence.
There's also a lot of raunchy comedy here (this is not, by any stretch, a family-friendly musical). Some of it's fairly juvenile, but still very funny in Murphy and O'Keefe's clever lyrics.
They pen tunes that are likably catchy, if sometimes over-reliant on having the cast belt out numbers at full volume.
The performances from the 18-member cast show off lots of strong young, local talent. Lumsden is terrific in the lead — the character of Veronica has a wide-ranging journey over the course of the 135-minute (with intermission) musical, and Lumsden handles it all with a smart, sensitive performance. She's also got a marvellous voice, which is showcased to great effect here.
Fletcher complements her nicely with a cool, eerily dispassionate performance as the sociopathic J.D., and likewise gets to show off impressive vocal chops.
And as the Heathers, Hill, Hunter and Macasaet manage to make each of their initially unlikable characters distinct and oddly sympathetic.
The solid cast are backed by an equally impressive four-member live band under musical director Paul De Gurse.
And choreographer Brenda Gorlick stages big dance numbers with plenty of energy and wryly comic touches, like the use of cafeteria lunch trays as fans in the Heathers' big entrance in the big, bold opening number, Beautiful.
It's a curious musical indeed, but one sure to please fans of the source material. It is, as the Heathers themselves might say, simply "very."
Winnipeg Studio Theatre's production of Heathers: The Musical runs at the Royal MTC's Tom Hendry Warehouse until April 10.