It is not unheard of for movies from the 1980s to gain a cult following once they become nostalgic. The movie Heathers from 1988 is no exception. However, what makes this movie more unique than others, besides the subversion of the usual 80s tropes that were seen in many movies such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is that Heathers has been adapted into a musical.
The musical was first presented as a concert in 2010 at Joe’s Pub, a dinner-theater in New York City. In 2014 it was a full play, running Off-Broadway that year. Though the show only ran for a month in 2016, it did receive a high-school edition with updated lines and lyrics as well as a new song to make it more appropriate for a younger audience. Since director Andy Fickman and writers Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy wrote the musical, it has since gained the same clique status that the original movie obtained.
Heathers was a film that began as a typical high school story of an unpopular girl suddenly being thrust into popularity and disapproving of the way the three popular girls, collectively known as “the Heathers” behave. Most of the tell-tale tropes of any of these types of movies are present, most prominently the mean popular girls, the innocent and good-hearted protagonist and the bad-boy boyfriend.
However, the story quickly diverges into a very real depiction of drug use, teenage suicide, bullying, homophobia, eating disorders and gun violence. The story is turned on its head when the main character, Veronica, kills one of the “the Heathers.” She and her boyfriend, JD, pose it as a suicide to avoid the blame being placed on them. It is later revealed that JD has a very twisted mind, outright killing students he does not like and obsessing over Veronica, and the protagonist must find a way to stop her boyfriend while clashing with the school’s most popular clique. It might still sound cliché, but it ends with a bang.
Like the movie, the musical starts off in a similar fashion. The opening number is upbeat and cheerful, not unlike something heard lighter-hearted Broadway shows. The musical numbers are downright comedic with songs about partying, blue balls and even an ode to brain freezes. The choreography is lively, and the ensemble takes up the whole stage as they practically prance to the music.
However, once one of the Heathers is killed, things turn more serious. The music and lyrics take on darker tones by the minute, with the choreography slower and more pocketed except for a few numbers that take place outside of the main character’s sphere of conflict. It is at its heart a comedy, but by the end the pop-like music has divulged into rock ballads. JD’s facade of a flirty bad-boy has morphed into that of a deranged killer, and the humor gets darker, not shying away from the dark topics of suicide and even attempted bombings.
The musical was quite a faithful adaptation, updated only slightly. JD’s obsessive and even abusive nature from the original film was toned down enough to make him sympathetic, and each of the Heathers got a chance to shine. The characters are real, and the songs are catchy, many playing homage to beloved lines in the original film such as “I love my dead gay son.” The musical also did a great job of visualizing how one small thing to a teenager can feel like everything with its radical story. Fans of the 80s movies as well as Heathers should thoroughly enjoy Heathers: The Musical.