The Governor’s Academy Theater Produced “Heathers: The Musical”

Jessica Choe, Editor

Well-known for its notorious and catchy quotes such as “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”, “No, Heather, it’s Heather’s turn. Heather?”, or “I love my dead gay son!”, Heathers: The Musical was brought to The Governor’s Academy Theater on February 18 and 19, 2022. Written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, Heathers is based on the film by Daniel Waters under the same name. Centered around a high school drama touching upon homicide, suicide, body image, and bullying, Heathers is a dark comedy full of lively rock music. Cecilia Rhodes ’22, a member of the cast, succinctly summarizes: “Heathers is a musical about a teenage story of angst and drama, but at its core, it’s a story about this young girl who’s just trying to fit in but makes some really, really dumb mistakes.”

Along with catchy music, Heathers is full of entertaining elements. The musical, set in Ohio, features trendy characters that capture the cultural sentiment of the late 80’s such as new wave girls, young “republicanettes”, preppy studs, and hipster dorks. As Nyati Misra ‘23—who herself played a hippie, disheveled guidance counselor Ms. Fleming—puts it, the play is full of “a lot of the stereotypical characters you’d get from John Hughes films.” 

Yet, the plot itself is not quite carefree as the audio and visual components make it seem. Westerberg High School is plagued with an unsparing social hierarchy ruled by three Heathers: Heather McNamara, Heather Duke, and the queen bee Heather Chandler. Veronica, in her attempt to assimilate into the popular culture and be part of the inner social circle, agrees to forge documents for Heathers when in need. Yet, the rickety friendship soon fissures, culminating in the murder of Heather Chandler by Veronica and JD. 

“The whole piece is dealing with understanding how words have weight and can hurt, actions can hurt, and to be more aware of people around you,” Mr. Geoff Brace, who directed the musical, told The Governor. “In one of the songs, they talk about how when they were in kindergarten everyone got along. Now all that was lost. It deals with lost childhood, lost innocence, and being flung into the evils of modern-day body image, popularity, and harsh things that can happen with just a word or just an action,” he commented.

When asked what made him choose such a dark musical, Mr. Brace responded, “This was the first time producing an actual musical in two years. We wanted to have a musical that wasn’t just a fluff and had a real bite to it.”  

Putting the musical together didn’t come without challenges. The cast and crew lost more than two and half weeks of rehearsal time due to COVID and snow days. The way the script was organized, too, also made it rather hard to rehearse. “Usually, it’s easy to block around choreography, but this one, it’s so chopped up that it’s been very difficult. The music is scattered, you have a little blip and then some dialogue, and the choreography is all wrapped up in that. This has been a real challenge,” Mr. Brace said. He then added, “but it was also a lot of fun.”

Because the music and dialogues are frequently cut up, it took an extraordinary amount of time and effort for the technicians as well. According to Nyati, Katie Riley ‘22, Assistant Technical Director and Lighting Director, spent more than ten hours just writing and designing the light cues. “The true soul of the musical is the lighting department,” Nyati said. “A lot of people don’t appreciate how much tech does behind the scenes. And so many people don’t realize how much harder it is to light a musical as opposed to a play. For example, there were about 120 lightning cues for the fall play, but more than double in the musical,” she emphasized. 

Some members of the cast, due to the gravity of the subject of the play, found it rather difficult to process the play. Cecelia opened up her ambivalent emotions while performing the role of a popular football player and bully Ram Sweeney. He is one of the main perpetrators, attempting to sexually assault Veronica while singing an entire song containing hurtful lines such as “if you don’t want me staring at you, why are you wearing that skirt” or “don’t play hurt.” Cecelia reflects, “I think it’s particularly hard given my character, saying these lines that I don’t completely agree with and are abominable. I just have to separate myself from the character, and to be open about how I’m really doing and how I’m really feeling.” 

It is very typical and not uncommon for a high school student to feel a strong desire to be popular. Yet, as Nyati puts it, the extent to which Heathers takes the obsession with popularity is more creepy and repulsive than understandable. Nyati commented, “It’s a peril about a teenage girl’s life, but it’s pretty bizarre. In fact, if it happened to an actual teenage girl, people would be deeply, deeply concerned.”

“The play is not supposed to be relatable. Go see a counselor and seek professional help if this is relatable to you,” Jason Zhu ’24, who played Veronica’s dad, remarked. 

To view the production’s website click HERE.