The Anne Shirley Theatre Company (ASTC) presents a musical each spring at Market Hall in downtown Peterborough. This year, director Lucas DeLuca brought the company to a new level.
The two-hour musical developed by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy is based in Westerberg High School, Ohio, where three means girls all by the name of Heather rule the school. The main character, Veronica, is a misfit interning as one of the Heathers when she falls for a new bad boy J.D.
The two of them murder the most popular students in school before Veronica has to save the school from the escalating violence of J.D.
The ASTC performance is only the third time Heathers: The Musical has been shown on the Canadian stage, said pop cultural historian Sam Tweedle in his review in Kawartha Now.
It will not be the last. Samuel French, Inc. has a list of 49 upcoming productions that will see Heathers on stages across North America.
Seven of the productions are taking to the Canadian stages between now and the end of July. Kingston and London are showing two different productions of the musical in May.
Christina Pidgeon played the role of Veronica as a much nicer version of Veronica. Instead of cold and cynical, Veronica appeared frustrated and kind, as do most high-school based main characters.
Pidgeon gave her best performance during her song Dead Girl Walking.
After deciding that the Heathers will run her out of the school, Veronica looks to the new bad-boy in school for a night of adult fun. The whole song has a ‘fuck everything’ vibe that was full of life and attitude.
Andrew Little played bad boy J.D. Unfortunately, his wonderfully deep voice did not do much for the higher range that is associated with JD’s character.
During the song Dead Girl Walking, Little was barely audible with his lines and somewhat awkward in his movements. Pidgeon took control grinding Little during an on-stage make-out session that gave the scene a genuinely good ending.
It may say something very good about Little’s personality that J.D.’s character was missing the attributes of a disturbed and, slightly delusional, emotional boy.
Little projected his J.D as more serious and sombre. It should be noted that Little stepped in as J.D. only a few months before production to fill the suddenly vacant spot, and likely had much less time to rehearse.
The musical version of Heathers combines Martha (the unattractive, fat girl) and Betty (Veronica’s former ‘loser’ best friend).
Kalene Lupton played the new Martha and delivered a wonderfully cheesy performance. Lupton shocked the crowd when she stepped onto the stage for a solo of Kindergarten Boyfriend and delivered the best vocals of the night.
Even more impressive was Josh Butcher who played the high school coach, Ram’s father named Mr. Sweeney and Big Bud Dean. Butcher gave one of the top performances of the night with a strong voice and large stage presence even when he was not the character in song or speech.
Jesse Morrison delivered a solo for her character Heather McNamara. During Morrison’s song, Lifeboat, her constant awareness of her movement, gestures, facial expressions and voice made for a wonderful monologue.
There are two brilliant cringe-worthy pieces in the musical.
Samantha Hurl played both Mrs. Fleming and the mother of Veronica.
As Mrs. Fleming, Hurl became the annoying character that she was meant to be. During the cast’s performance of Shine a Light (led by Hurl), it was clear that the writers wanted to add a ridiculously cheesy song, and they succeeded.
The two are supposed to be misogynist dirtbags and sang the song ‘you make my balls so blue’ while pretending to have sex with a prop pig.
The phallic and alcohol-obsessed jerks pull off a very convincing performance, but there was obvious discomfort when the two were meant to caress each other.
On a personal perception, Audrey Messenger stole the show with her character Heather Chandler, the meanest and the first to die.
After her death, Chandler returns to haunt Veronica and showing another level of cruelty to her character. The over-the-top, witch-like cackles and strong, sexy presence made her the most amusing character to watch.
The stage direction was good, no actor appeared to be leaving or entering the performance space confused or awkward. However, there were a few times the characters sang with their back to the audience.
Costume designer Kathy Blackwood put her best foot forward for Heathers, and with the exception of some strange vertical-designed lighting patterns, Gil Ruston did a wonderful job with lighting.
The props of the production were minimal, but of great quality. Real lockers, a portable bar, snacks and a motorized wheelchair were used. For more complicated props like a car, the cast settled on a bench.
The musicians that played for the night did a flawless job and deserve recognition for their incredible work.
Ending the show, Veronica (Pidgeon) ripped the red scrunchy from the hair of Heather Duke (Hop Clarkin in green). The symbol of power within the high school did not come out of Clarkin’s hair easily and the audience giggled a bit as Pidgeon struggled and succeeded.
The incident did not seem to fracture the success of the play, but instead created an unexpected moment of connection between the audience and cast members.
I would like to make a shout-out to Tom Middleton, who played the dorky student, for pulling off hilariously creepy one-liners throughout the play and for his adorable dancing at the production’s end.
The cast was organized by the end of September and rehearsals began in October.
The atmosphere during rehearsals is good, but tensions can get high as most of the cast are involved in other Trent and Peterborough groups, as well as enrolled at Trent University, explained Morrison.
The biggest challenges for Morrison have been constantly keeping up without stressing too much and singing with a cold.
But spending time both working hard and goofing around with the talented cast had been a wonderful experience, she said.
At the end of the day, she shared, they all feel like a family and many friendships have been formed.