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Suicide notes

Cult film "Heathers" gets the musical treatment, pitch-black humor and all

"Heathers" (a story about murder, suicide, sexual assault, homophobia, and the hazards of love) gets the big musical treatment! Photo credit: Matthew Price and Kyle Sinclair

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Heathers was always destined to be a cult film, with its button-pushing story and pitch-black humor ensuring that an audience would eventually find it and love it, but the general public would stay away. Much like The Evil Dead before it, though, Heathers was a cult film that surprisingly ended up getting the Broadway treatment.

And so, we arrive at Lakewood Playhouse's production of Heathers: The Musical. Directed by Ashley Roy, and with an ensemble cast of actual high school students (except for those three Heathers, who are in their 20s), Heathers: The Musical is a massively enjoyable show, which also doesn't hold back on the caustic tone of the story it's telling.

As we begin, Veronica Sawyer (Molly Quinn) is a wallflower with a flair for forgery; this talent catches the eyes of the three Heathers (Taylor Colvill, Annelise Martin, and Juliet Hollifield), the tyrannical popular girls at Westerburg High School. Before long, Veronica has become an adjunct Heather, doing the bidding of these mean girls, while leaving her one true friend behind. A new student shows up: the worldly and antisocial JD (Avery Horton), who rocks a trench coat and an Atari T-shirt. It's love at first sight, but JD's desire for violent justice and punishment for the popular kids is a red flag that only turns a deeper crimson as the show goes along.

Soon enough, bodies are stacking up, and an effort to cover up murders leads to the writing of phony suicide notes, which in turn leads to a growing obsession with teen suicides.

Despite the buoyancy provided by the musical numbers, the show admirably leans its darkness, not shying away from how frightening JD is. It's here where the chemistry between Quinn and Horton becomes key: we believe the immediate attraction they share, and Veronica's growing realization that she's dating a psychopath (and her flirtation with taking his side) is a slow burn that provides the show's backbone.

Still, if I had a nagging problem with the play, it's that the humor can be a touch too glib, boasting an edginess and hitting on hot-button issues in an unfocused manner. Much has been said -- by the Lakewood Playhouse and others -- that Heathers has a message that has resonated with people for decades, but it's unclear what that message is.

If the idea is that conforming is wack, and being yourself is where it's at, that's a moral that can be conveyed without so much bloodshed. If the idea is that domestic terrorists can be radicalized by internalized misogyny, then the original Heathers was way ahead of its time, and the musical is even more relevant now. But Heathers is possibly best appreciated as buckshot satire -- a subversive, campy entertainment that has a whole lot to say, but very few clear points to make.

Quinn and Horton are outstanding, and the whole ensemble knocks this material out of the park. For the problems I had with the humor, the mix of dark comedy and frothy music is still winning. Just note: they give content warnings at the start for a reason.

HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 9, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. SW, Lakewood, $25-$30, 253.588.0042,

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