Like everyone in the audience, we were pretty stoked to see Heathers: The Musical at New World Stages last week. The theater community has been buzzing about this one for quite some time and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
We’ve had big fun over the years re-watching the DVDs of the original Heathers, listening to the commentary tracks (our personal fave is the one with director Michael Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi filled with constant allusions to one Miss Shannen Doherty being a major bitch on set), and watching all of the inferior clones that tried (and failed) to match the original’s pitch-black humor and spot-on satire.
Heathers: The Musical is a near-perfect homage to the movie that also works completely on its own terms, mixing enough bitchy humor to satisfy purists with a surprising amount of heart and a spirit of inclusiveness that is perfect for modern times.
The show is very, very gay and here are five reasons why:
1. Alice Lee as this musical’s shadiest Heather
Heathers: The Musical mostly avoids camping it up. Alice Lee is the reason that we had to add that “mostly.” As the bitchiest and most ambitious of the Heathers, she struts, sneers, rolls her eyes, and is serving more shade to any and everyone onstage than a Drag Race queen sipping an Absolut cocktail in the Interior Illusions lounge. Suffice it to say, we lived for it. That this Heather Duke is the lone student of color in the school adds an interesting dimension to her second-act power grab, and is definitely relatable to anyone who is just a little bit different than everybody else. Sound familiar?
One slight weakness with Heathers: The Musical is that the heart we mentioned earlier can at times slip into hyper-earnest drippiness (an issue we had with the reimagining of the Veronica character), but whenever that is in danger of of happening you can count on Lee to snap us back to reality with an arched eyebrow or a what the fuck is happening here facial expression. Anything that wants to appeal to the gays needs a bit of camp, and Lee plays it right at the edge without going over the top.
2. Evan Todd’s Chest, Legs, Arms, and Abs as Kurt Kelly
Anyone who’s seen the original Heathers knows that (25-year-old spoiler alert) homophobic jocks Kurt and Ram strip down to their skivvies after being lured into a threesome with Veronica, are killed and the murder is made to look like a gay suicide pact. One of the conceits of Heathers: The Musical is that characters stick around as ghostly versions of themselves after death, which means you’re treated to an entire second act of hunky recent Julliard grad Todd running around in some fairly skimpy briefs.
It’s only logical that the same theatre that once staged Naked Boys Singing! would house another show with ample manflesh on display. The sizable gay male audience contingent didn’t mind. And no, creepers, we couldn’t snag a photo. That one is from a production he did in L.A. Not only would it have been completely unprofessional, but we’re pretty sure that taking photos or video at any live performance in NYC is punishable by death via a firing squad consisting of Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth and Audra McDonald.
3. The Awesomely ’80s Soundtrack
When we walked out to the men’s room humming Veronica and JD’s Act 1 closing number Our Love Is God, we knew they were onto something with the music. It’s not called Heathers: The Musical for nothing, and it’s full of catchy songs that (for the most part) eschew the show-tune elements of traditional musicals in favor of a distinctly ’80s sound with throaty vocals that wouldn’t be out of place at a KISS concert circa 1988. The ’80s are totally back and gays are totally into them. Seriously, how else can you explain that Flock Of Seagulls-style haircut we see every ‘mo in the gayborhood rocking lately?
4. “My Dead Gay Son”
“My son’s a homosexual, and I love him! I love my dead gay son!”
The scene when the fathers of Kurt and Ram console each other at their sons’ dual-funeral is definitely the one that perfectly encapsulates the satirical aspects of the original Heathers. Naturally, the creative team behind Heathers: The Musical decided to make an entire song out of this, and it is the act two show-stopper here.
In their hands, My Dead Gay Son turns into a pop-rock anthem of gay empowerment and inclusiveness, complete with rainbow flags and a few bold and surprising character choices that are definitely original to the musical. We talk about (and enjoy) a lot of things that are gay-adjacent or gayish that appeal to us without being explicitly for us, but make no mistake: My Dead Gay Son is loudly and proudly for the gays, and we suspect that they are gonna love it.
5. Jessica Keenan Wynn as Heather Chandler
As the original mean girl, Keenan Wynn is that bitch you love to hate and hate to love, and we could totally imagine high school gays clamoring to be one of her loyal subjects. Gays have always had a thing for strong women (how else to explain the obsession with Hillary Clinton?) and this Heather Chandler is nothing if not strong (unfortunately not enough to withstand the effects of Big Blue Drano).
In her blonde wig, Wynn is a dead ringer for Rachel McAdams and eerily reminiscent of the original Heather Chandler, actress Kim Walker (who literally died of a brain tumor. We have no idea what she had for breakfast that morning) that we had to do a double take and realized that this couldn’t have been a coincidence. Trust us, in character the resemblance is crazy and this casting is canny, invoking not only the original actress but also Mean Girls, the only movie that ever truly came close to carrying on the Heathers legacy.
These are only five reasons that Heathers: The Musical is the gayest show on earth, but trust us that there are many, many more.
The buzz on this one was right. Check it out and you will definitely have a gay old time.