Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Heathers The Musical
Mesa Encore Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Alice by Heart and Six: Teen Edition


Griffin Slivka and Mohika Gauani
Photo by Jennifer Giralo
Heathers The Musical is a refreshing and fun stage adaptation of the iconic 1988 black comedy film that follows a teenage misfit who discovers there are more challenges than she bargained for when she finds herself a member of the most powerful clique in school. With music, lyrics, and book by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy, the musical retains the dark satire and biting humor of the original movie while adding a substantial dose of tenderness and depth, particularly through its pop-rock score and engaging characters. Mesa Encore Theatre's production features a great cast, crisp direction, and impressive technical aspects.

Set in a high school in a fictional Ohio city, the plot centers around Veronica, a former nobody who ascends to popularity by joining the elite clique of Heathers: three girls who dominate the school's social hierarchy. As Veronica navigates her way through her new status, she becomes involved with J.D., a mysterious newcomer whose rebellious nature leads them both into dangerous territory. The musical explores the treacherous waters of high school popularity, bullying, and the desire for acceptance, as well as what happens when some students devise extreme plans to retaliate against their peers.

While there are a few songs that are just average, some shine with clever lyrics and effective musical themes that blend seamlessly with the plot and character development; the opening number is especially exceptional for introducing almost all of the main characters and setting the plot in motion. O'Keefe and Murphy skillfully integrate key scenes and dialogue from the film into their adaptation while also streamlining the plot into a fast-paced and engaging story that delves deeper into the psyches of J.D. and the other main characters. The mixture of comedic, perky, and tender songs maintains the film's subversive tone, ensuring a faithful adaptation for fans of the movie.

MET's cast excels. Mohika Gauani captures the multifaceted nature of Veronica's character, from her initial desire to fit in to her evolving sense of self-awareness and morality once she realizes that being popular isn't all it's cracked up to be. Gauani's powerful vocals add depth and emotion to her character. Griffin Slivka's portrayal of J.D. is both intriguing and, appropriately, unsettling, and he and Gauani have a strong bond that makes the relationship between their characters realistic.

McKaylee Todd, River Moyes, and Mars Ungor, as the trio of Heathers, bring distinct personalities to their roles. Todd's authoritative presence, Ungor's ambitious determination, and Moyes' enthusiasm contribute to their dynamic performances, with Todd being appropriately bitchy as the leader of the group and Moyes delivering a standout performance of the song "Lifeboat." Rosenberg and Oakley Rinehart provide many moments of humor as the brainless, sex crazed, jock bullies Ram and Kurt, while Sara Bruton shines as Martha Dunnstock, delivering a touching rendition of "Kindergarten Boyfriend." In the adult roles, Mitchell Glass, Tim Schnepf, and Michaela Davison provide additional comic relief and poignant moments, with Davison's vocal performance in "Shine a Light" and Glass and Schnepf's duet of "My Dead Gay Son" very good. The large ensemble all do wonderful work.

Director Sarah White's effective staging delivers seamless scene transitions complemented by Paul Yount's fun, period-appropriate choreography, and her cast create lively, layered, and engaging performances. The production's technical aspects, including Jon Landvick's musical direction, Nathan Gayan's costumes, and Rob Littlefield's lush lighting design, are all very good.

While Heathers tackles the grim modern realities of high school life, including bullying and school shootings, it does so with a blend of humor and satire that makes the subject matter more palatable. Despite the disturbing themes, the musical remains honest, smart, and surprisingly uplifting, capturing the essence of the original film while offering new insights and emotional depth. Mesa Encore Theatre's production is well-cast and crisply directed and perfectly depicts the struggles of high school and the never-ending desire to fit in–no matter what the cost.

Heathers The Musical runs through June 4, 2024, Mesa Encore Theatre, Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please visit mesaencoretheatre.com or call 480-644-6500.

Director: Sarah White
Assistant Director: Gianbari Deebom
Music Director: Jon Landvick
Choreographer: Paul Yount
Producing Artistic Director: Taylor Moschetti
Technical Director/ Carpenter: Cheryl Briley
Production Manager/ Scenic Designer/ Head Carpenter: Lorelee Godden
Lighting Designer: Rob Littlefield
Costume Designer: Nathan Gayan
Properties Designer: Jaime Esquer
Sound Designer: Joshua Rife
Hair and Makeup Designer: Eliana Burns
Intimacy Coordinator: Monica Sampson
Fight Choreographer: Rachelle Dart
Stage Manager: Randallyn Curry
Assistant Stage Manager: Makayla Eneboe
Scenic Painter: Shawna Roden
Sound Operator: Danny McNulty
Spot Operator: Elizabeth Witte
Carpenters: Dave Roden, Phil Staley

Cast:
Veronica: Mohika Gauani
Jason “J.D.” Dean: Griffin Slivka
Heather Chandler: McKaylee Todd
Heather McNamara: River Moyes
Heather Duke: Mars Ungor
Martha Dunnstock: Sara Bruton
Kurt Kelley: Harrison Rosenberg
Ram Sweeney & J.D. U/S: Oakley Rinehart
Kurt’s Dad / Principal Gowan: Mitchell Glass
Ram’s Dad / Big Bud Dean / Coach Ripper: Tim Schnepf
Ms. Fleming / Veronica’s Mom: Michaela Davison
Ensemble, New Wave Girl: Zoey Waller
Ensemble, Stoner Chick: Anda Federico
Ensemble, Republicanette: Karsten Lane Flake
Ensemble, Veronica U/S, and Assistant Dance Captain: Emma Elsberry Tenebruso
Ensemble: Kailey Mazur
Ensemble: Emma Jarvis
Ensemble, Beleaguered Geek: Zack Pepe
Ensemble, Preppy Stud: Arjun Paramore Jr.
Ensemble, Hipster Dork: Donovan Reza
Ensemble, Officer McCord : Austin Porter
Ensemble and Dance Captain: Andrew Wildermuth
Ensemble, Officer Milner, Veronica’s Dad: Brian Tuscany
Ram U/S: Justin Carey