STOP! Before reading any further, please read this small disclaimer. Heathers the Musical is rated R, for a myriad (ha, myriad) of reasons – sex, violence, profanity, and alcohol/drugs, including underage drinking. So if there is ever a chance to see it in your city, I highly – HIGHLY – suggest you do your own research before deciding to purchase tickets.
That being said, the show must go on!
First, a little about the musical…
The show opens up with Veronica Sawyer, an unpopular, nerdy, high school senior with one friend, big college dreams, and a handy knack for forgery. She just wants every one to be kind to each other, just like when they were in kindergarten. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in high school. Everyone has there place: “geek, slut, burnout, poser,” jocks, Veronica, her best friend Martha, and… the Heathers. The Heathers are the popular girls, the group everyone idolizes. They’re beautiful and rich and wear the best clothes. Heather Macnamara (head cheerleader), Heather Duke (yearbook, no personality, breast implants paid for by her mom), and Heather Chandler (the Almighty) practically run the school.
Veronica decides she’s tired of being treated like gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe. She strikes a deal with the Heathers: forged hall passes for a chance to sit at the Heathers’ lunch table. She believes if the others think the Heathers “tolerate” her, they’ll leave her alone. Heather Chandler decides this could be good, if she undergoes a makeover – making Veronica one of the hottest girls in Westerburg High. Three weeks later, she runs into Jason Dean, aka JD - a tall, Baudelaire-quoting mystery in a black trench coat, and handsome to boot. She fell, and she fell HARD.
The rest of the musical follows Veronica as she and JD accidentally poison and kill Heather Chandler (oops). After that, a horrible rumor about Veronica begins circulating throughout Westerberg that she had a three-way with Kurt and Ram – two of Westerberg’s best football players. JD decides they need to exact revenge on those two, and after some planning on both their parts, JD shoots and kills them both, much to the Veronica’s surprise. Veronica now has to live with killing 3 of her peers and how she’s still in love with JD.
So, yes, it’s a kind of (really) horrible beginning story, but it’s a great show. It shows that high school is hard. It’s scary and unpredictable, and on top of that, there’s homework…?! Crazy…
I first heard about this musical when my cousin, Elliana, performed “Seventeen” with her best friend Frankie at a competition. I. Was. Mesmerized. I watched that clip over and over again. I then purchased the soundtrack and fell even more love with the music. All of the songs are brilliantly written and the music is just… wow.
Then I find out that Elliana was going to be performing in Heathers the Musical at a small theater near Orlando. THEN I find out that not only is she performing – she got the main part!
Let me start by saying my cousin is an amazing performer. I was not sure how this production would measure up, because of its tiny black-box stage and small, unknown theater, but… IT. WAS. AMAZING. Everyone was fantastic, and my cousin brought me to tears with her performance.
Afterwards, I was listening to the conversation my uncle was having with the director. They were discussing the part of the play where Kurt and Ram are spreading that rumor about Veronica and she said, “During the first few times I watched that scene, I cringed. But then I realized something – high school kids really can be like that. They can start horrible rumors and treat their classmates with such cruelty.”
That’s the statement lead me to this post. Sure, Heathers the Musical is crude and filled with sex and language and drinking, but it hits the nail on the head when it comes to high school. Yeah, it’s a bit exaggerated, but consider this… isn’t everything exaggerated in our own heads? When I look back on my school years, I cringe at some of my actions and reactions to things that happened. I questions why I said this or did that. But I could justify those things back then, because every one else was justifying their own actions.
One of my favorite songs, sung by Heather Mac, is “Lifeboat” Heather feels like she’s one step away from falling apart. There’s all this pressure to stay popular, and she feels like one false move, and all of that will go away. She’s having some very dark thoughts. It’s scary for her to think that her life is changing so much and her future is unknown.
Take a look at these lyrics:
“I float in a boat
In a raging black ocean
Low in the water
With no where to go
The tiniest lifeboat
With people I know
Cold, clammy, and crowded
The people smell desperate
We'll sink any minute
So someone must go
The tiniest lifeboat
With the people I know
Storms are approaching
There's nowhere to hide
If I say the wrong thing
Or I wear the wrong outfit
They'll throw me right over the side
I'm hugging my knees
And the captain is pointing
Well who made her captain?
Still, the weakest must go
The tiniest lifeboat
Full of people I know
The tiniest lifeboat
Full of people I know”*
When I saw this performed by a phenomenal young woman named Katherine, I was so stunned. I think the entire audience was feeling the same, because no one clapped. Her performance was so moving, that for me, it felt like if I clapped, if I moved, if I even breathed, it would ruin the moment. It was that good. It also really opened my eyes to how I’m sure so many people feel.
There is so much pressure in school to do so many things – get good grades, be popular, dress well, be perfect. You’re scrutinized for every action. You have to question everything you do, everything you like or don’t like - whether it’s cool to be smart or not, to stand out or be normal. And what even is normal??
As an adult, I think we forget all too easily how hard high school can be. Parents, you can tell your teenager that you understand what they’re going through, and you may truly believe you do or try to, but the truth of the matter is this: you don’t. A teenager’s mind is so complex. They’re still trying to understand who they are, who their friends are, how they fit into this world, and all of this with added pressure of deciding what they want to with the rest of their lives after high school.
Life is full of ups and downs – ups that make us excited about life, and downs that are truly devastating.
It’s crazy how an off-Broadway production can make me realize these things, but I think that’s a good thing.
I honestly love this musical, despite the aspects that give it the R rating. I have listened to this album over and over and over and over, and I still find something intriguing or new each time.
I encourage you to explore your own thoughts about your high school experience. I also encourage you that if you find yourself speaking to a high school student, don’t tell them they have it easy. News flash: they don’t. Tell them that it may seem hard now, but that eventually, …
…life gets better. And it can be beautiful.
*Lyrics found here.
Below: Veronica and JD (Elliana and Hector) in performing "Seventeen" (I ship it so hard)