“Heathers the Musical”: Exit 82 Theater Company

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Heathers the Musical, the outrageous off-Broadway show based on the teen cult film, Heathers, starring Winona Rider and Christian Slater, was presented on April 14–17, 2016, by the Exit 82 Theater Company at The Strand Center for the Arts in Lakewood, NJ. Featuring the effervescent Elizabeth Rittacco as Veronica Sawyer, the brainy and beautiful teenage misfit, and the oh-so-talented Bre Cade as Heather Chandler, the cruelest girl at Westerberg High, Exit 82’s version of Heathers the Musical proved to be a spirited and energetic production of a raucous off-color show conceived by the creative team of Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde).

Heathers the Musical opens as Veronica Sawyer (Elizabeth Rittacco) begins her first day of her senior year at Westerberg High School where Ram Sweeney (Billy Cardone) and Kurt Kelly (David Jordan) are the dimwitted jocks, Martha Dunnstock (Emily Nielsen) is the heavyset outcast, and the Heathers — Heather Chandler (Bre Cade), Heather McNamara (Keely Davenport) and Heather Duke (Lisa Adams)— run the school.

When Veronica uses her forgery skills to keep the Heathers out of detention, Heather Chandler, the undisputed queen of Westerberg, recognizes her potential and gives her a make-over, raising her status to that of a member of their inner circle.

Veronica soon realizes that popularity has its drawbacks when Heather Chandler discovers that Martha has had a crush on Ram Sweeney since kindergarten and orders Veronica to forge a romantic note from him. Veronica tries to stop Chandler from giving the note to Martha, but she backs down when Chandler threatens to destroy Veronica’s newfound social status.

The Heathers’ threats are witnessed by the mysterious J.D. Dean (Nick Wey) who criticizes Veronica for betraying her friend in exchange for popularity. Ram and Kurt pick a fight with him, but he unexpectedly fights and defeats them. Watching the fight, Veronica finds herself strangely attracted to this dark and brooding stranger.

With their parents away, Ram and Kurt decide to throw a wild party. Because of the note, Martha arrives thinking that Ram has invited her, but she is cruelly rejected by him. The Heathers try to embarrass Martha by blindfolding her and presenting her with a bat and a pig-shaped piñata they had fashioned to resemble her, but Veronica throws the piñata in the pool. Veronica angrily quits the Heathers, but Heather Chandler refuses to allow her to walk away, threatening to ruin her life.

After mulling the situation over, Veronica decides to apologize to Heather Chandler and J.D. tags along. Heather orders Veronica to make her a hangover cure, which she does. As a form of revenge, J.D., allegedly jokingly, prepares his own cure made from toxic drain cleaner; in a distracted moment, however, Veronica grabs J.D.’s cup instead of her own. J.D. notices the mix-up, but says nothing about it. Heather accepts the cup from Veronica while rejecting her apology, drinks the hangover cure, and dies. Fearing no one will believe Heather’s death was an accident, J.D. convinces Veronica to forge a suicide note.

With Heather Chandler dead, Heather Duke breaks free of her second-class status and assumes control of Westerberg High School.

Ram and Kurt create a lie about Veronica, telling everyone at Westerberg that Veronica had been intimate with them. The other students believe them and brand Veronica a slut. J.D. comforts Veronica, and enlists her help in a plan to get revenge on the two jocks. Veronica lures Ram and Kurt into the woods where J.D. explains they will shoot the boys with special bullets. These bullets, he says, will temporarily render them unconscious, putting them out long enough for the authorities to find a forged suicide note proclaiming them gay lovers. J.D. shoots Ram, but Veronica misses Kurt, who runs into the woods followed by J.D. As Veronica realizes Ram is dead and that the bullets are real, J.D. kills Kurt in cold blood.

The next day, J.D. confronts Heather Duke at school and blackmails her into getting the student body to sign a petition declaring a holiday in remembrance of all three of Westerberg’s recent “suicide” victims: Heather Chandler, Ram, and Kurt.

Mourning Ram, Martha tries to commit suicide herself by jumping off a bridge. She survives with broken bones, but her suicide attempt is mocked as a failed effort to imitate the popular kids. Veronica rushes to the hospital where, due to all she’s been involved with, the ghosts of Chandler, Ram, and Kurt make her realize that she has now become as heinous an individual as Heather Chandler once was.

After arriving home, J.D. tries to break into Veronica’s room brandishing a gun. Through the door, he tells her he believes the solution to all their problems is to kill the entire student body at Westerberg. He reveals that the petition which Heather Duke got everyone to sign is actually a disguised suicide note, and he plans to blow up the school while everyone is at a pep rally, making it look like a mass suicide. He breaks open the door to find Veronica dangling from a noose.

Filled with grief, J.D. rushes out to complete his plan in Veronica’s memory. Veronica, however, has faked her suicide and hurredly makes her way to Westerberg to thwart J.D.’s scheme, even if she has to die in the process.

Veronica confronts J.D. as he’s setting up a bomb in the boiler room under the gym. As they struggle, J.D.’s gun goes off, and he collapses. Having no idea how to disarm the bomb, Veronica takes it out to the empty football field in an effort to save the other students by sacrificing herself. J.D., still alive, follows Veronica and convinces her to let him have the bomb instead, telling her to do something positive with her life. The bomb goes off, killing J.D., but leaving everyone else at Westerberg unharmed.

Returning to the school singed but still alive, Veronica tells the student body that the era of constant ridicule and belittlement at Westerberg is now over. As such, she invites Martha and Heather McNamara to hang out with her and simply be teenagers for a little while before their childhoods are over.

The story concludes as Veronica proclaims, “We’re all damaged. We’re all frightened. We’re all freaks. But that’s all right. We’ll endure it. We’ll survive it,” and all of the other cast members — including the ghosts of Ram, Heather Chandler, and Kurt — echo her thoughts by urging, “Always be seventeen. Celebrate you and I. Maybe we won’t grow old. And maybe then we’ll never die.”

For more information on future musical productions by Toms River, NJ’s Exit 82 Theatre Company — including audition info regarding their upcoming production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast — please go to exit82theatre.com. For more on the Strand Center for the Arts in Lakewood, NJ — including a live presentation of Shrek the Musical on July 15, 2016 — go to strand.org.

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