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Theater review: "Heathers" at Blackfriars


The 1980's brought a golden age of cult classics -- "The Breakfast Club," "The Princess Bride," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," the list goes on -- but 1989's "Heathers" is in a (high school) class of its own.

The musical version follows the same plot as the film: On the first day of high school in 1989, intelligent, pretty social outcast Veronica Sawyer is invited into an exclusive high school clique called "The Heathers" after she successfully forges a hall pass to get the popular girls out of detention.

The three Heathers, led by vicious queen bee Heather Chandler, give Veronica a makeover. The new kid, Jason "J.D." Dean, notices Veronica's hesitancy to truly conform to the Heathers, and criticizes her choices when she betrays her childhood best friend, Martha Dunnstock. J.D. and Veronica start to "go steady," and that's where the story takes off at Westerburg High.

"Heathers: The Musical" was first staged as a concert at Joe's Pub in NYC's Public Theater in 2010; produced as a full musical for sold-out Los Angeles audiences in 2013; and moved to off-Broadway for a brief run in 2014. The Blackfriars Theatre production is the first time the show has been performed in the state outside of New York City. Kevin Murphy (the musical adaptation of "Reefer Madness") and Laurence O'Keefe ("Legally Blonde: The Musical," "Bat Boy: The Musical"), who excel in the kitschy films-adapted-for-stage genre, penned the book, music, and lyrics.

In the role of Veronica Sawyer, Nazareth College musical theater major Kit Prelewitz is an effortlessly ideal good girl-turned-kind of bad. Prelewitz portrays the spunk and rebellion iconized by Winona Ryder in the film role, but she adds her own interpretation to the role, bringing in a softer, quietly strong side to Veronica. With her clear, sweet voice and spot-on acting skills, Prelewitz is a burgeoning starlet with many more leading roles in her future.

Playing opposite her is Jimmy Boorum as Jason "J.D." Dean. Boorum is a regular on the local theater circuit, but this role is somehow ideal for him (and it's not just the Christian Slater-esque hair). Boorum captures the angst of the teenage years but adds in just enough crazy to make it feel uncomfortable. Together, Boorum and Prelewitz have some of the best duets in the show ("Our Love is God," "Dead Girl Walking," "Seventeen").

As the leader of the Heathers, Heather Chandler, Brynn Tyszka is perhaps the strongest stage presence in the show. She delivers Chandler's ruthless lines with a sharp, deadpan wit, and her more "ethereal" appearances in the second act are crucial to the energy of the show. Sammi Cohen plays the bulimic, quiet Heather Duke to hilarious perfection, with glorious side eye moments. Completing the Heathers trifecta is Abby Kate Herron, who manages to be both adorable and deplorable as the stereotypical head cheerleader.

Jessica Kaufman plays Veronica's childhood best friend, Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock. Though she performs her role well, her finest moment by far is her solo "Kindergarten Boyfriend," which is at once the saddest and the most beautiful song in the show. (In fact, every person in the cast can sing well, and that's part of why it's such an enjoyable few hours.)

Bobby Conte and J. Simmons play football stars and bullies Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, and the duo provides much of the irreverent comedic relief throughout the show. In rotating roles as the "adults" of Westerburg High, Jeff Andrews, Brian J. Maxwell, and Kerry Young make the most of their brief stage cameos. Young, in particular, is deadpan funny as the syrupy Ms. Fleming. A supporting ensemble of six "high school students" in colorful 80's garb rounds out the cast.

Danny Hoskins directs the production, and he's built a marvelous cast and crew. Blackfriars' new development manager, Mary Tiballi Hoffman, assistant directs, and Andy Pratt is the musical director. The choreography, which stays simple and fun, is by Mandy Hassett. Eric Williamson designed a versatile, moving set covered in 80's-era squiggles, and Lighting Designer Ted Plant capitalizes on the blank canvas with plenty of neon lighting throughout the show. Costume designers Janice Ferger and Kayleigh Yancey outfit the cast in everything from boxy suit coats and side ponytails to varsity jackets and knee-high socks with short skirts.

"Heathers" is a dark, divinely good time -- truly an exclamation point on the end of Hoskins' first season with Blackfriars.