Review: Heathers – The Musical (Kokandy Productions)

| March 5, 2016

Courtney Mack in Heathers, Kokandy Productions          


By Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Apr 24  |  tix: $38   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


It’s just not happening


Rochelle Therrien, Jacquelyne Jones, Haley Jane Schafer and Courtney Mack in Heathers, Kokandy

Kokandy Productions presents
Heathers: The Musical

Review by Catey Sullivan 

In the pantheon of tales from teendom, “Heathers” is in a class of its own. You can have your Breakfast Clubs and your Cluelesses and your Mean Girls – I’ll take the 1988 cult classic of teenage angst with a body count in a heart beat. The Winona Rider/Christian Slater movie nails the gladiatorial nature of high school with humor darker than the inside of a blackhead and violence more shocking than an AV club officer getting elected prom queen. Shoulder pads and scrunchies take on a totemic power in the cautionary tale of Veronica Sawyer, misfit-turned-queen-bee-turned-serial-killer. Gag me gently with a chainsaw if the movie isn’t one of the most spot-on satires since Moliere.

Chris Ballou and Courtney Mack in Heathers, Kokandy ProductionsAn over-the-top drama set in the most over-the-top decade on record (that’d be the 1980s), “Heathers” seems like it should be a natural fit for musicalization. But before you get too stoked, consider: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s tuner barely lasted a month off-Broadway. Kokandy Productions’ staging of Heathers: The Musical highlights the show’s shortcomings. Directed by James Beaudry, the show wears out its welcome faster than you can say “let’s motor.”

The first problem that’s apparent is the show’s inconsistent tone. Beaudry’s very young ensemble veers uneasily between camp and playing it straight, never fully committing to either. The story requires a deft balance between both. Nerdy, insecure Veronica (Courtney Mack) inveigles her way into Westerburg High’s holy trinity of popular girls: bulimic yearbook chair Heather Duke (Haley Jane Schafer), cheerleader Heather McNamara (Rochelle Therrien) and Mythic Bitch Grand Supreme in Excelsis Ultima Deo,, Heather Chandler (Jacquelyne Jones).

In the tradition of teenage populites since the dawn of time, the Heathers are cruel, stuck-up and stalk the corridors of high school like runway supermodels stomping through fashion week. Preying on the the likes of Martha “Dumptruck” Dunstock (Teressa LaGamba) and other lowly “freaks/sluts/posers/skanks/homos/lard-asses,” the Heathers oversee a reign of terror that would scare Robespierre.

Into their kingdom comes J. D., (Chris Ballou), a new kid with an affinity for black trench coats, Baudelaire and off-label uses for drain cleaner. The plot follows J.D. and Veronica as they progress from hookups to homicides. J. D. is on a quest to rid the world of cruelty. Veronica must decide whether she can go along with his mass-murdering methods.

Jacquelyne Jones, Courtney Mack and Chris Ballou in Heathers, Kokandy Productions Courtney Mack in Heathers, Kokandy ProductionsRochelle Therrien, Jacquelyne Jones, Haley Jane Schafer and Courtney Mack in Heathers

In penning the music, book and lyrics, Murphy and O’Keefe often confuse crudeness for humor. There’s far too much of the former, far too little of the latter. If you’re going to spend an entire song going over the spurting details of two jocks simultaneously sword fighting in one girl’s mouth, you need to be smart and funny about it. Otherwise, you’re left with a song that’s glaringly misogynistic, and so puerile that even a seventh grade boy would turn away in disgust. Murphy and O’Keefe don’t bring much wit or intelligence to any of their lyrics. What results is just gross, or the lyrical equivalent of a bathroom floor covered with crusty handtowels just after checkout in one of those hotels that rent by the hour.

The score is a problem too. O’Keefe and Murphy’s music covers the range from strident to grating, both qualities emphasized to excess by the cast. There is one potentially lovely anthem – Martha’s ode to kindergarten kindness, “Kindergarten Boyfriend.” LaGamba’s got a killer voice, but music director Kory Danielson seems to be oblivious to the dangers of vocal damage that are inherent to having the cast screech through most of the score. There is no belting in Heathers, there is only blaring.

That monotone stridency defines the acting as well. LaGamba’s the sole cast member who brings anything resembling emotional authenticity to the stage. While it’s true that the characters in Heathers are extreme versions of high school types, that extremity shouldn’t completely erase their humanity. But that’s precisely what happens. There are no real emotional stakes in Heathers because nobody seems human: ThIs is a production of loud, garish cartoons. It doesn’t help that the actors playing adult characters all seem to be the same age as the high schoolers. J. D. and Westerburg’s principal could switch places in the final act and it wouldn’t really make a difference.

Rochelle Therrien, Jacquelyne Jones and Haley Jane Schafer in Heathers, Kokandy Productions

The design team also falls flat. Nothing about Ashley Ann Woods’ generic, colorless set refers to high school or the 1980s, both crucial, defining elements of the story. Costume designer Robert Kuhn has the Heathers wearing the same outfits everyday at school, with the exception of giving them black blazers after the first body turns up. Even taking budgetary constraints into account, there’s no excuse for making three extreme fashion plate characters don the same clothes everyday. Find a thrift shop. Fashion is a huge part of who the Heathers are. Take that away, and you’ve deleted an essential, fundamental part of what these girls are all about. On a lesser note: Nobody – not diabetic senior citizens with circulation issues much less nubile high school hotties – wears control top support hose as pajamas. If it says “flesh toned” on the package, don’t you believe it.

The costumes aren’t the only visuals with plenty of room for improvement. Beaudry has inexplicably done away with the blood in a show that should be as overflowing with it as much as the locker room in an all-girls boarding school. If you get shot at close range, you bleed. If you ingest drain cleaner, you will puke up shreds of your upper digestive tract. And if you light a big-ass pile of explosives on fire, there should be some semblance of an explosion, even if it’s only a trick of lighting. There’s none of that here. Like thrift shop fashion, stage blood can be had on the cheap. Its absence is both mystifying and annoying.

In all, Kokandy falls way short of passing with Heathers. Even given the flawed material, this is a show that could be both deliciously campy as well as a Lady Bic-razor-burn scathing commentary on the horrific tyrannies of high school. But it’s as if the director himself had Drano for breakfast or something. Like “fetch” (to quote another teenage classic), it’s just not happening.


Heathers: The Musical continues through April 24th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $38, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)

Andrew Spatafora, Jacquelyne Jones, Denzel Tsopnang, Haley Jane Schafer, Courtney Mack, Colin Funk, Garrett Lutz, Rochelle Therrien

Photos by Emily Schwartz




Courtney Mack (Veronica), Chris Ballou (J.D.), Haley Jane Schafer (Heather Duke), Teressa LaGamba (Martha), Jacquelyne Jones (Heather Chandler), Rochelle Therrien (Heather McNamara), Caitlyn Cerza, Diego Conlon, Carly Cozad, Colin Funk, Veronica Garza, Casey Hayes, Garrett Lutz, Meghan Shanahan, Andrew Sickel, Andrew Spatafora, Daniel Tsopnang (ensemble), Johnny Kyle Cook, Sara Kase, Madison Kauffman (understudy, swing)


Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (conductor, keyboard), Kyle McCullough (guitar), Zach Lentino (bass), Isaac Stevenson (percussion), Ethan Deppe (keyboard programmer)

behind the scenes

James Beaudry (director), Kory Danielson (music director), Sawyer Smith (choreographer), Charlotte Rivord-Hoster (asst. music director, conductor), Ashley Ann Woods (set design), Brandon Wardell (light design), Kait Samuels (stage management), Michael J. Patrick (sound design), Robert Kuhn (costume design), Mealah Heidenreich (props design), Aaron Shapiro (production manager), Alan Weusthoff (technical director), Evan Frank (asst. stage manager), Zoe Benditt (booth operator), Jonathan Goldthwaite (production assistant, house manager), Ben Hinc (technical consultant), Scot T. Kokandy (executive producer), Allison Hendrix, John D. Glover (co-artistic directors), Ben Magnuson, John Buranosky (casting associates), David Rosenberg (public relations), Jeff Meyer (graphic design, marketing), Emily Schwartz (photographer)


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Kokandy Productions, Musical, Theater Wit

Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Way off base on this review. Either you have forgotten what high school was like or you remember it way to well. These young performers do an excellent job portraying the horrors of high school that exist generation after generation. The shy, the jocks, those student brave enough to be unique and then suffer the consequences with only a few students aware that once out of high school we need to actually get along with each other. Music, singing, lighting, costumes were all fantastic. Why is it the only one you gave a compliment too was the one that got picked on the most. Seems to me you can relate to this musical more than you care to admit.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, this reads more like a personal grudge than an actual review.