Tuesday, December 8, 2015

reviews - HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL - Stray Cat Theatre

Cole Brackney, Brittany Howk and Sara Sanderson
photo: John Groseclose
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 20th.

"...the subversive and at times very funny black comedy, Heathers The Musical...pretty much follows the same story arc as Heathers the movie. ...It’s 1989, the first day of school at Westerburg High and nice girl Veronica Sawyer (a hugely likable Brittany Howk) is crushed when she thinks back to those more innocent, fun, early days of school compared to the clique infested hell she now inhabits known as the senior years.  All the familiar types surround her; the jocks, the nerds, the brains, the outcasts, and worst of all, the mean girls.  At Westerburg there are three of them and they’re all called Heather (Sara Sanderson, Taylor Moskowitz and Elyssa Blonder, all well cast)... It’s only when Veronica meets the new and oh-so cool bad boy in town, J.D. (Cole Brackney) that her allegiances to her new ‘friends’ changes...The dialog that made the film so sharp remains with the show......Support from a surprisingly large cast is solid throughout, though naturally you’re drawn to the Heathers.  The three hellish teenagers both look and sound exactly right, but by default its Sara Sanderson’s Heather Chandler that centers attention....Eric Beek’s scenic design is simple but effective; the six-piece band sits up stage, flanked by oversized lockers decorated in graffiti while a round-shaped center holds most of the action.  Daniel Davisson’s lighting is efficiently used to highlight a change of location or a character’s mood....the score employed is timeless, theatrical rock...Lead voices are good but suffer as levels rise.  Sounds become ear-piercingly screechy to the point where some may find themselves wincing, though in fairness to the game performers, this drawback presumably has more to do with the aged acoustics of the Tempe Performing Art Center than Peter Bish’s design.  Having now seen Stray Cat’s first musical presentation ever, that move to the new permanent home across town at Tempe Center for the Arts couldn’t come at a better time, especially now that group’s second rock musical, Green Day’s American Idiot, looms on the horizon. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"The satirical 1988 black comedy film Heathers has been turned into a nifty musical...Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy's adaptation also includes plenty of added comical moments and even a huge jolt of tenderness. Stray Cat Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of the pop rock musical in a smartly directed and well-cast production that perfectly portrays the struggles of high school and the neverending desire to fit in—no matter what the cost.... focuses on a high school in a fictional Ohio town where the popular kids, especially a trio of girls who are all named Heather, running the school. When Veronica, a former high school nobody, manages to join the trio it makes her popular but also forces her to serve as the protégé and lackey for the group. A budding romance after a run-in with new kid J.D. finds Veronica's life changed even more. When she realizes that the mean-spirited girls and other popular kids in the school are dangerous to the kids they don't like—she is forced to partake in some of the bullying herself—the mysterious, rebellious loner J.D. makes plans with her to get back at their fellow students.  Though the score isn't completely perfect... has several well-constructed numbers with witty, smart lyrics and recurring musical motifs that blend dialogue and character development, and drive the plot...Stray Cat's cast is just about flawless, with an exceptional turn from Brittany Howk as Veronica that gets to the heart and soul of this conflicted girl..J.D. is damaged, and (Cole) Brackney expertly, and slowly, lets us and Veronica realize that his character may be beyond repair. He and Howk also portray a realistic couple—murderous warts and all. As the three Heathers, Sara Sanderson, Taylor Moskowitz and Elyssa Blonder are all excellent at presenting three women who are very different from each other and believe that everything and everyone exists for their personal amusement. ...Director Louis Farber ...doesn't let the darkness of the story get downplayed as he allows the tenderness of the story to occasionally peek through, especially in the moving ending that culminates in showing the emotional impact of the struggle of getting through high school.... While Peter Bish's sound design is fine, on opening night there were numerous sound glitches and several times when the band overpowered the cast or lines of dialogue were completely lost. I'm not sure if these issues can easily be overcome or if this is just too big, and too loud, of a show for the Tempe Performing Arts Center.......Heathers: The Musical, while at times hilarious, is unflinchingly honest and smart and even strangely uplifting." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"The musical version of the classic cult film, “Heathers,” is loud and that’s not necessarily good.  Not only is the show, presented in its regional premiere by Stray Cat Theatre, loud it was fraught opening night with every possible technical and acting glitch imaginable in a show much more complex than is usual for this company. Quite frankly, it looked like amateur night at the theater...Conceived by Kevin Murphy and Lawrence O’Keefe, the mediocre script and the bland score, are forgettable and undistinguished..The Stray Cat cast ambles about the stage in Louis Farber’s busy but confusing staging....Vocals are chancy at best with many performers crooning painfully through the trashy songs.  Although a choreographer is credited, the musical staging is staggeringly dull and is filled with every predictable dancing bit you’ve seen in other community theater productions. Curtis Moeller’s band is way too loud and the music easily overpowers the singers who, although equipped with body microphones, can’t make any of the song lyrics or dialogue distinguishable so it is impossible to follow the inane story...Further annoyances include colorful but uninteresting costuming and a dreadful set that should help more to distinguish plot locales.  There’s really nothing to justify seeing “Heathers.”  --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"... "Heathers: The Musical" smoldered and sassed in all the right places leaving the audience often blissfully aghast at its daring and promiscuity....infused with snarky lyrics set to steamy, bubbling rock music. It focuses on Veronica, a brainy, relentlessly razzed high school senior who determines her best chance for survival is to join the most popular trio in school, a clique of anorexic, snobby girls, each named Heather. When the Heathers turn on her, Veronica and her mildly sociopathic new boyfriend concoct some homicidal-ish vengeance....Featuring a smart six-man band upstage center that provided a groovin' --and pounding when necessary bass and trap set--mix of acoustic and electric sound, the talented ensemble kept the evening enlivened...Veronica (Brittany Howk) owned the Heathers. In fact, awkward nerdy teen that she was, Howk nonetheless pretty much owned the whole stage with a somehow commanding self-consciousness and endearing self-deprecation. We couldn't take our eyes off her....A twisted and beautiful love ballad between Veronica and JD (Cole Brackney) well into the show gelled the couple's first act dramatic chemistry beautifully. The best choral ensemble moments occurred in "Shine a Light," nicely nuanced by locker doors that opened to reveal tall, stained-glass church windows. The show's heavy thematic material tackled very real, perhaps even more current social woes than when the movie launched. Surging mass violence in schools, unprecedented waves of prejudice, homophobia, eating disorders... and a propensity to talk a lot and act little to solve the issues were pervasive during the performance. The irony, quick wit and effective staging worked to spotlight garish troubles and then assuage them with comedic excess...."
-Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)

"... “Heathers: The Musical”...was an off-Broadway hit in 2014...Stray Cat Theatre’s Arizona-premiere production is directed by Louis Farber, and it boasts a talented young cast, some ’80s-riffic choreography by Nicole Olson of Scorpius Dance Theatre and a smart set designed by Eric Beeck featuring giant-size lockers covered in name-calling graffiti..rises above the average movie adaptation thanks to songwriting that’s consistently catchy and occasionally even heartfelt. On opening night, the biggest barrier to fully loving “Heathers” was purely technical: a too-hot sound system that kept emitting ear-piercing feedback and making some grade-A belting cross the line between “soaring” and “screeching.” The incessant sound glitches also rendered some of the punch lines inaudible....Stray Cat’s cast is (mostly) terrific. Brittany Howk...deliver(s) a winning performance as Veronica...Best-in-show honors go Sara Sanderson as Heather Chandler. The perkiest, most spiteful Queen B you could imagine, she shows off powerful pipes...In the Christian Slater role of Jason “J.D.” Dean, Cole Brackney is a convincing antisocial brooder, but his singing voice only gets an A for effort..it looks like Stray Cat has a legit hit on its hands — as long as they can fix that sound system."  - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"...Stepping outside their "normal" season of off-beat (non-musical) plays, Stray Cat Theatre triumphs in producing this fresh musical, based on the cult classic 80's film of the same name. ...HEATHERS is about high school misfit Veronica Sawyer (Brittany Howk), who falls fast for teenage outcast Jason "JD" Dean (Cole Brackney). Just as quickly as Veronica finds her way into the class clique, the "Heathers," led by Heather Chandler (Sara Sanderson) - with sidekicks Heather Duke (Taylor Moskowitz) and Heather McNamara (Elyssa Blonder) - she finds herself out. When Queen Bee Heather Chandler sees that Veronica doesn't bow down to her, she promises to make her life a living hell. Without giving too much away, Veronica's beau JD turns out to be more dangerous than dangerously sexy, and life at Westerberg High is filled with more than your average life-or-death teenage angst....the real winner in Stray Cat's slick show is Brittany Howk as Veronica Sawyer. Howk finds the perfect balance of heart and humor, delivering some of the smoothest physical comedy the area has seen. Her rich, powerful vocals are the highlight of the evening, making "Beautiful," "Dead Girl Walking," and "Seventeen" standouts of this exciting pop score. Speaking of strong vocal performances, the notes Cole Brackney reaches as JD are simply off the charts. Still, his pop-rock tenor voice manages to reach each note with ease. Brackney's impressive ability to transform from boy next door to manipulative teenage terror is equally impressive, if not a bit frightening....Hats off to director Louis Farber and music director Curtis Moeller, who have not only assembled a top-notch cast, but have guided them to epic success...Although Nicole Olson's choreography was somewhat disjoined in the production's first two numbers, "Beautiful" and "Candy Store," her period-inspired steps (including a nod to Michael Jackson's "Thriller") were entertaining. The production's only major fault was its inconsistent sound balance, which was perhaps an opening-weekend casualty." -Kyle Christopher West, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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