Tabor Academy ‘rules the school’ when it comes to selecting a smash hit title for its annual winter musical production, and this year’s choice of “Heathers: The Musical (High School Edition)” fits the bill.
Based on the cult classic 1980s film, the more toned-down high school version still manages to shock, inspire, and teach, while still bringing the audience to delight in its darkness and at the same time articulating many of the most challenging issues of the life of a young person – bullying, depression, peer pressure, and trying to be liked and fit in. And although the show has been stripped of explicitness of the original movie (sans sex, swears, smoking, and alcohol and drugs), the show maintains its effectiveness in dealing with the cruelty of teenagehood and keeping the conversation current when it comes to school violence and the effects of bullying – subjects that are extremely important and as relevant today as ever – but don’t feel bad if you find yourself laughing and even relishing a bit of revenge fantasy and in-touch with the ‘Veronica Sawyer’ within all of us.
The musical is directed by Tabor’s English and drama teacher Mark Howland, and features a cast of two-dozen actors who make up the hierarchy of Westerberg High School. At the top of the food chain sits the Heathers: the cruel and powerful “red” Heather Chandler played by Kelsey Boch, next in line is “whipping girl” of the clique “green” Heather Duke played by Emma Quirk, and the beautiful, but not-so-bright, “yellow” Heather McNamara played by Mia Vaughn.
Our heroine Veronica Sawyer, played by Ellyn Cunningham, finds her way into the most powerful clique at Westerberg and soon realizes that, well, she hates her new best friends.
“I really identify with my character Veronica,” said Cunningham. “I’m a lot like her, except I don’t murder people!
“Like a lot of people, I’ve been bullied and I’ve experienced a lot of the same issues,” she said.
Boch, however, says she is nothing like her character – the “mythical bitch” of the show, as Heather Chandler is known.
“It’s been kind of hard, actually, I’ve felt bad because I’ve been saying such horrible things to my friends (acting in the show),” Boch said. “But it’s been very helpful to me as an actor playing the character and walking in these different shoes. You can really learn through a role like this. I’ve enjoyed being in the shows year to year and it’s been a real honor.”
Howland had this to say about the show: “While [the show]delves into such hot-button topics as body shaming, sexual harassment, and suicide, it does so with humor and sensitivity. The creators have claimed, in fact, that they feel the show is about female empowerment. Rather than avoid these taboo topics, [the show] tackles them head on but through the lens of satire, showing us that high schoolers need to be kinder to each other, and adults who work with them need to be more clued in. Our goal is that the show be a catalyst for the school community to further awareness and empathy.”
During the dress rehearsal on Friday, February 1, the crew was busy getting the sound and lights just right, moving the sets into place, and the actors found their voices and sank deeper into their characters in full costume. On a large projection screen at the back of the auditorium, Music Director Philip Sanborn could be seen conducting remotely to a remote orchestra, something new that Tabor has never tried before, Howland said.
The show runs February 14, 15, 16 at 7:30 pm in Tabor’s Fireman Center for the Performing Arts in Hoyt Hall at 245 Front Street, Marion. The show is free and open to the public, no tickets or reservations required.