I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
A killer show
Macquarie University Musical Society has a real hit on their hands with a snappy, tongue in cheek production of Lawrence O'Keefe's musical version of Heathers. Based on the 1980s teen movie of the same name, this deadly funny and quirky musical leverages O'Keefe's previous musical endeavours. It has all the perkiness of Legally Blonde and all the macabre weirdness of Bat Boy rolled into one two-hour offering.
For those unfamiliar with the movie (and if you are, definitely do yourself a favour and watch it), the story revolves around an American high school ruled by the original 'mean girls', the Heathers. The three girls, Heather McNamara, Heather Duke and ringleader Heather Chandler terrorise the other school kids with their bullying and effortlessness cool. Veronica Sawyer manages to infiltrate the group and become one of the Heathers at the expense of her best friend Martha, whilst at the same time falling for the mysterious new kid at school, JD. The typical teen movie narrative does not apply here, though. Instead, the plot quickly descends into murder, deception and cover ups – there are far more deaths in Heathers than in your typical high school story.
Director Daniel Hill has cast the Macquarie Uni production exceptionally well. Each of the main characters looks and embodies their parts perfectly from the juxtaposed strength and loveable awkwardness of Veronica to the bitchy, self-assured perfection of the Heathers. Lead by Hill's direction, the show has a great ensemble vibe with each member of the cast gelling beautifully onstage. Aarin Starkey's choreography shines – particularly as executed by the Heathers in Candy Store. Aiden Brown's musical direction is solid, with both ensemble and solo numbers sounding tight and confident. There are some pitch challenges (particularly on some of the higher notes) that may have benefited from a little more shaping and adjusting to suit the performer as too often the default seems to be to scream, but these moments are far overshadowed by the strong performances overall.
As Veronica, Elizabeth Gunther is just about perfect. Overcoming some pitch issues early on, Gunther sings with a sweet tone and demonstrates she's definitely capable of a big high belt when the moment calls for it. Gunther nails the character of Veronica. She captures the inner conflict of the character as she begins to descend into morally grey areas and gives subtle physical nods to the fact that she's never 100% comfortable wearing the popular girl crown. Sean Van Vuuren as JD was probably the one casting choice that missed the mark for me as vocally he struggled with pitch and range and I didn't get a sense for the chemistry between him and Veronica. For me, he wasn't a convincing enough manipulator or enigmatic enough to buy into their relationship.
The Heathers were exceptionally cast. Ashley Roberts as Heather Chandler made her presence felt strongly with little stage time and her characterisation was utterly perfect for the bitch ringleader of the mean girls. Jamie Lipschitz as Heather Duke got to demonstrate her vocal abilities with a few nice solo lines, as well as shining in the choreography. Holly Last as Heather McNamara is again brilliantly cast and her moment towards the end of the show in the number 'Lifeboat' is beautiful and poignant as well as being one of the best vocal performances in the show.
The rest of the ensemble cast all shine at times. Max Seppelt and Julian Coleman embody toxic masculinity as the school jocks with deadly consequences, as do their fathers Jack Maidment and Leo Tracy. For me, though, the performance of the evening has to go to the delightful Lucy Taylor as the constant target of the school bullies, Martha. Taylor's performance is naïve, sweet and innocent and when she reaches breaking point in Act Two, it's utterly heartbreaking. Vocally, her performance is impeccable, and her portrayal was my favourite of the night.
All in all, MACMS have pulled together a smart, deadly and wickedly funny production of Heathers. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they do next!