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Off Broadway Reviews

The Gospel According to Heather

Theatre Review by Kimberly Ramírez - June 22, 2023

The Cast
Photo by Russ Rowland
If The Gospel According to Heather were billed as theatre for young adults, tween crowds might find it appealing, but it is likely to land as trite and trivial with adult audiences. As TYA, though, the show at Theatre 555 might need just a few edits. Like when popular kid Kaisley (Maya Lagerstam) advises Heather (Brittany Nicole Williams), "You're in high school. You're not supposed to find yourself. You're supposed to have sex and do drugs." Or when Heather tells Zach (Carson Steward), "because I love you, I support you jumping off the roof" before they kiss and jump.

The problematic plot begins when teenage pescatarian protagonist Heather Krebs (a character curiously sharing the same surname as Theatre 555's owner-operator Eric Krebs) finds a biblical coin in a halibut, develops healing powers, and seems to be the new messiah. This leads to lots of unwanted attention in Sharonville, Ohio, where all Heather wants is to fit in as a "normie" with a boyfriend.

As we explore the small town through Heather's eyes, it is endearing to find godliness depicted in everyday folks like Ray the busker (Jeremy Kushnier) and Agatha the silent senior citizen (Katey Sagal). The Gospel According to Heather marks the New York theatre debut of Sagal, who is a longtime friend of Paul Gordon (book/music/lyrics). During the limited time she takes the stage, Sagal is simply stunning; vocally, she takes the audience to church and is visually captivating as a radiant goddess. In a commanding performance, Jeremy Kushnier doubles as a satirical conservative podcast host who publicly challenges Heather.

Though the lyrics are often corny and elementary ("Please tell me that I'm not St. Heather / Cause I don't have my shit together / Knock me down with a feather"), the show features a strong ensemble of voices led by Williams alongside Lagerstam and Badia Farha, and a rousing eleven o'clock number with a golden-voiced and gowned Sagal. The acting is a bit uneven, however; as Zach, Steward showcases an impressive singing ability while his rigid delivery lacks expression in speech and movement.

Director Rachel Klein's pacing stays refreshingly brisk throughout, but, despite the obvious capabilities of some performers–like Wayne Wilson, Maria Habeeb, Zach Rand, who play a chorus of classmate disciples for Heather–Klein's choreography remains so basic you could almost repeat the moves from your seat.

A simple set by Justin Swader suggests Sharonville by flanking a fluid area with flats in front of a backdrop, all covered in clapboard siding and painted with abstractions of trees, steeples, and signs signaling fast food and gas station chains. Jamie Roderick's effective lighting design creates ethereal heaven-on-earth scenes that glow with some neat flourishes, like a dazzling chase when Zach and Heather jump off the roof. Saawan Tiwari's smart and colorful costume designs, often requiring some swift transformations (including one key onstage quick-change), go a long way to establish and differentiate characters.

Though Kaisley warns, "Death is final, dude. That's it, there's no going back," the play's premise and action almost glorifies impulsive physical risk-taking as its teenage protagonist casually heals casualties and everyone defies death all around. And while the talented cast transcends the show's limited score, book and lyrics, audiences may still not find The Gospel According to Heather heavenly.

The Gospel According to Heather
Through July 15, 2023
Amas Musical Theatre
Theatre 555, 555 W 42nd St, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: