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Theater Review: "Heathers: The Musical"

Veronica soon realizes that being in favor with the Heathers involves sacrifices to her integrity, just as being on the outs will cost her socially.
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OnStage Playhouse

I don’t remember high school especially fondly, but not in my wildest nightmares was it anything like the depiction of Westerberg High School in “Heathers: The Musical.”

This isn’t your sweet little show about those good ol’ high school days.

It’s about extremes – mostly the worst you can imagine – at the fictional Westerberg High School, run by brutish jocks and a trio of the most obnoxious, toxic – and popular – girls you’ve ever met. And they’re all named Heather.

Based on the 1988 film written by Daniel Waters, the show (with book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy – is a bleak black comedy set in suburban Ohio. “Heathers: The Musical” is onstage through May 27 at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse.

We meet the Heathers as they enter in a cloud of smoke, all dressed in designer jackets, short skirts and high socks. Heather Chandler (Olivia Berger), in gray skirt, screaming blue jacket and thigh-high socks, a serious mop of blonde hair and lots of makeup, is the “mythic bitch queen” and captain of this “team.”

Cheerleader Heather McNamara (Dani Leandra) is also blonde but less rambunctiously so. Reanne Acasio’s yearbook editor Heather Duke is the whipping girl of the three.

When Veronica enters the school, the only person she knows is Martha Dunnstock (Elizabeth Jimenez), nicknamed “Martha Dumptruck,” chunky but optimistic, with a huge soul. 

Sizing up the situation, Veronica (Kay Marian McNellen) decides it’s smarter to have friends than enemies, so she offers to use her forgery skills on an excuse note to get the Heathers out of detention.

Veronica soon realizes that being in favor with the Heathers involves sacrifices to her integrity, just as being on the outs will cost her socially.

Things degenerate from here. Veronica is impressed by an even newer kid in school named J.D. Dean (M. Keala Milles, Jr.), who actually fights back when jocks Ram and Kurt take him on. But he turns out to have a dark side.

You’ll see common high school problems like drunkenness, meanness, anger and stupid revenge attempts (not to mention suicide and eating disorders), some ending in real tragedy. But if you’re like me, you’ll also laugh a lot at the familiarity of the problems and the clever song lyrics.

Directors Manny & Tony Bejarano have a great singing cast here, though on opening night they had trouble cutting through the band (especially the drums), even with microphones.  

McNellen’s Veronica is utterly believable: too smart to put up with the likes of the Heathers, but like most of us, in need of a good friend or two to help her through the rough spots, and a good sense of right and wrong.

McNellen can also belt a song with the best of them.

Milles is convincing also as Veronica’s sorta boyfriend J.D. who turns out to be a lot less than perfect (in fact, closer to a sociopath).

Berger’s “ice queen” Chandler is a perfect – and perfectly awful  – portrait of those pretty, popular (and mean) girls you hated in high school. 

Leandra and Acasio are recognizable too, as the sometimes resentful also-ran other Heathers. 

Jimenez is terrific as Martha Dunnstock, the smart, nice girl who should be on top of the social heap but never is.

Congratulations to the artistic and tech teams too. Choreographer Shirley Johnston does some nice work and Ryan Dietrich’s costumes are a hoot.

Brace yourself (especially if you haven’t seen the film), because “Heathers” gets into much darker territory than you might expect. 

But these characters are familiar, if not the most upstanding examples of high school kids you’ve seen, and it’s quite a coup that OnStage gets to present the first local production of “Heathers: The Musical.”

The details

“Heathers: The Musical” plays through May 27, 2017 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org