With St. Clair College producing a great version of Heathers: The Musical last year, it was a bit surprising that Cardinal Music Productions decided to stage it as the first show of 2018. But after the closing notes of the opening song, it was evident, this wasn’t going to be the same experience as the college version.
Feeling more real and grounded, it seemed like we were watching Heathers from an actual high school yard rather than a flashy Broadway studio. It’s that school yard vibe that gives this version its clout and substance.
There was a big audience there for opening night (Friday, Jan. 19) at The Green Room in E.J. Lajeunesse to witness the story of Veronica Sawyer, a senior at the fictional school of Westerberg High. The musical adoption is based on the 1988 cult film starring Winona Ryder.
Veronica longs to be cool like the clique of it-girls that runs Westerberg: the unaffected, unattainable Heathers. Unfortunately, in addition to awesome levels of popularity, the Heathers are also cruel, choosing to mock and bully their kingdom into submission. When Veronica uses her skills as a forger to get the Heathers out of detention, she impresses their leader Heather Chandler— so much so that they agree to let her into their exclusive club. At first Veronica is thrilled—until she finds out that being one of the Heathers means bullying the same kids she used to call friends.
The Cardinal cast, headed by 15-year-old Regan White as Veronica, is loaded with talent. The harmonies were big, the choreography was phenomenal and the acting was entertaining. White was a little shaky and quiet during the opening number, but as the jitters quickly disappeared, she rocked the house with a witty version of Veronica, who gained more and more confidence as the show progressed, even dealing with the death scenes as emotionally damaged as one would expect. The role of Veronica is a challenging one because the character struggles with varying emotions throughout and is on stage for most of the show, with very few opportunities to catch a breath. Based on this performance, we can expect big things from White in the future, who will only get better and better from here on out.
The Heathers were certainly a highlight in the show, dripping with ego, assurance and sass. Natalie Culmone (Heather Chandler), Sydney White (Heather Duke) and Karly Green (Heather McNamara) were a great team, as evident in their opening song Candy Store, which featured a few sexual innuendos and short-skirted bends. The girls performed well together and their voices provided a sweet harmony whenever they sang together. Green was especially delightful when her subtle solo came in the second act when she performed Lifeboat.
The real standout of the show was Ben Doncom, who gave Veronica’s boyfriend JD a very Christian Slater vibe, almost bordering on Kiefer Sutherland’s character in The Lost Boys. It was cool, creepy and totally scary, all at the same time. He pushed JD to an edge that even Slater seemed to be scared of touching in the original movie – and he’s one of the main reasons why this version of Heathers had that schoolyard vibe. During the second half, Doncom’s mic failed, and for the most part, he carried himself well without it for the rest of the show. The mic failure happened during the emotional duet Seventeen with Regan. The song (which is my favourite song in the show) still retained all the emotion and passion it originally intended, through the chemistry Ben and Regan shared on stage.
The entire cast and crew deserves a shout out for their effort and daringness to stage a raw version of such a controversial play. It’s big productions like this one that make most people realize the talent we have in Windsor. Nina Fasullo was pretty awesome as the nerdy Martha Dunnstock, while Nick Palazzolo and Same Poole (Ram and Kurt) courageously stripped to some pretty revealing undies for half the show. Joe Cardinal and Allen Levack both performed a couple different roles throughout the show, peaking with an on-stage kiss as the duo embraced their homosexual sons. The rest of the cast each had a special moment, including Melissa Mills, Seamus Tokol, Lev Tokol, Erin Osbourne, Sophia Abdeh, Darien Pare, Jules Walton and Jen Gurniak.
It’s easy to see why Heathers The Musical is such a cult favourite amongst teens and movie fans. It has plenty of sexiness, drama and raw emotion throughout – and it even tackles the human problem of bullying head on.
The show is directed by Joe Cardinal with musical direction from Allen Levack, while Nina Fasullo’s choreography, as per usual, is stunning.
Heathers The Musical continues this week, with evening shows at The Green Room in E.J. Lajeunesse on Friday and Saturday, as well as a closing matinee performance on Sunday. Tickets begin at $20 and are available at Cardinal Music at 519.944.5800 and cardinalmusicproduction.com.
Photo by Ted Kloske