Multi-tasking this evening with a bifurcated trip back to Heathers. As previously noted, the film just celebrated its 25th anniversary and hasn't lost its bark (so quotable, so confident) or bite (so daring, so dark). A musical adaptation of the high school classic is also playing Off Broadway at the moment but we'll get to that in a minute. Let's start with the waterworks...
[Major 25 year old spoilers are ahead]
After Veronica & J.D.'s first kill in Heathers, restaged as a suicide for cover-up purposes, Veronica (Winona Ryder) is reeling. The events of the preceding evening have shape-shifted rapidly from prank to crime to cover-up and, compounding the grotesque events, the outpouring of performative grief wherein history is entirely rewritten: Heather Chandler is no longer a mega bitch but a misunderstood soul! Veronica can't get her bearings. Winona Ryder does an excellent job of suddenly going numb -- it's all so overwhelming -- but remaining Veronica and human, too, with little fluctuations of sadness, annoyance, eye-rolling, self-pity, gallows humor and, most importantly, total disbelief at everyone around her and her own behavior. It's not like any stages of grief that Kübler-Ross model ever taught.
The surviving Heathers each take it in their own way, Heather McNamara looks to her friends to guide her and Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) is suddenly binge-eating "fuck it". While Veronica fades away from the conversation, in a zombie walk to the showers, Heather Duke utters one of the film's most quotables lines without a shred of authentic human feeling.
Oh the humanity."
For once her friends drop the bitchiness and seem genuinely confused if not quite concerned...
Veronica, what are you doing?
It's surely what Veronica is asking herself right now. Out damn spot.
Jump forward 25 years and Heathers is now an oft-quoted and influential but still underseen classic that is still more daring than any other teen comedy that's arrived in its aftermath. And, like all beloved movies, someone somewhere vetted it for a musical stage adaptation. The result is playing at New World Stages here in NYC and it's a mixed bag as these things always are... but for different reasons than usual.
On the one hand, the book writer blessedly did not try to "transfer" a film to the stage. The creative team seems to understand that you have to fuse multiple scenes into shifting fluid full acts because nothing kills a stage play quicker than trying to be just like a movie with a new scene starting every minute in attempt to 'do them all'. You'd be so surprised at how many stage versions of films don't understand this and are constantly changing their sets. It's so distracting, throwing you right out of the drama or comedy in a way a film cut, unless it's poorly judged, rarely does.
They've also rather daringly opted to not dwell on several of the film's famous lines even if the iconic ones are mostly accounted for. They show up in different places and sometimes are tossed off like they don't expect you to mouth it along with the cast. Best yet, and the clearest example that they understand they're performing a musical play and not a movie, is the staging of the suicide notes. All the notes are sung and become, in effect, choral numbers or duets given that given that Veronica and J.D. are writing them in the voices of their victims and then the notes are being read by teachers and students in school. It's a perfect really very clever musical solution to a recurring plot motif that can be summed up in a couple of seconds onscreen but actually really drives the narrative. And in the musical genre, if you're doing it right, the songs are what drive the narrative.
But all is still not well at Westerburg High. The pacing in the second half is dragged down considerably by the need to give every character their sung moment. The cast is good, but the pacing is dragged down at times with the poor decision to give every character their own song (some songs would work better as a few sung lines rather than full numbers). Barrett Weed as Veronica gets really close to Winona's dark and painful comedy without doing an imitation exactly and the Heathers are funny, Ryan McCartan is no match for Christian Slater as J.D.This is not his fault exactly since Slater got a lot of mileage from his eyebrows and Jack Nicholson Jr impersonation in closeup. But it's the tone that is the obstacle to brilliance here. This feels very much like how a Heathers remake might feel today if Hollywood were to go there. It wouldn't be "very" is what I'm saying. These Heathers aren't as demonically vicious, the text isn't as irreverent and the mood definitely veers more sentimental than it should. That tends to happen when your leads keep belting out love songs. But Heathers is a classic primarily because of how unflinchingly it looks at the pain of high school , mean girl cliques and jock bullying. It stares right into the abyss and knew that high schools were built on Hellmouths earlier than even Buffy the Vampire Slayer did.
Take the finale of Heathers the movie when J.D. threatens to detonate himself outside the school, explosives rigged all over him. Veronica doesn't declare her love or look away or scream. She simply pulls out a cigarette defiantly and sadly and waits for the explosion to light it. That movie aint a softie. It probably wouldn't sing soaring ballads were it to break out into song.
And while it's true that Heathers the film does end on a note of optimism, Winona's ash covered face, still drone-like shuffle walk, and exhausted soul tell a fuller story. Yes, she shows a little kindness in the high school hallways as the credits roll, but Heathers the movie never lets you forget that the story is about a girl whose 'teenage angst bullshit has a body count'.