“Bulimia is so ’87,” comments Heather Chandler in one of the opening scenes of “Heathers.”
As one of the few individuals who has actually seen the musical version of “Heathers”–yes, I’ll admit it, three times–I didn’t need director Hannah Skopicki ’18 to turn to me during the rehearsal I was observing and whisper, “Oh, by the way, trigger warning. Times a thousand.”
The 1988 movie version of “Heathers,” which is much more widely known and loved, especially by the cast of the Wesleyan musical, is pretty un-PC in its own right, which can be expected given that it was released in the significantly less sensitized culture of the ’80s. But when the off-Broadway musical version came out during the spring of 2014, I imagine much of its narrow audience expected a show slightly updated to modern society’s politically correct standards, and overall a little less dark and sadistic than the movie.
But that was not the case, thankfully. The musical, while more overtly humorous and campy than the movie (qualities most musicals tend to infuse into the stories they tell), does not mute any of the angst or darkness in the original film. It also makes absolutely no effort to smooth over the movie’s harsh language, which arguably promotes body-shaming, homophobia, and rape culture. Skopicki, like many “Heathers” fans, sees this language as acceptable in this context, because the story is set in the ’80s and is therefore a realistic representation of its time, and also because it forces viewers to address essential topics in a very immediate, personal way.
“If we shy away from important issues like the ones that ‘Heathers’ brings up, then there’s no way we can make a difference and there’s no way we can change those issues, and there’s no way we can work through problems,” Skopicki said.
In a way, its lack of political correctness might be what makes “Heathers: The Musical” perfect for Wesleyan. It not only represents the high school angst a lot of us probably felt during our teenage years, taking it to the utmost extreme, but it also addresses a lot of the issues that we discuss during our classes and in our spare time.
“‘Heathers’ really affected me in a time of my life when I was in a transition,” says Skopicki, who saw the musical after graduating from high school and before leaving for college. “It brings to light a lot of issues that I think are really important, and as someone who is really into politics and culture, it brought forth a lot of feelings, emotions, and questions that I think need to be discussed.”
Since she will be abroad for most of her remaining time in college, Skopicki felt that now was the only time to bring “Heathers: The Musical” to Wesleyan, and that the campus was the perfect place to put it up because of the campus’ open-mindedness.
She also appears to be the perfect one to bring it to us: the commitment and energy that she brings to this show is astounding. During the rehearsal I watched, she controlled the background music, stood in for a missing actress with a significant role, and performed her directorial duties of staging and rearranging scenes. On top of all this, during the five-minute break she gave her cast during the intermission, she let me interview her, immediately diving back in when we were done.
“Hannah is an amazing, dedicated director,” said José Luis Sánchez ’18, the show’s stage manager and also Skopicki’s best friend. “It gets intense sometimes, but we always have best friends time that’s separate from ‘Heathers’ time.”
Cast members come from a variety of acting backgrounds at Wesleyan, ranging from first years for whom the show is an entrance into the world of drama on campus, to seasoned performers like Mio Magee ’18, a second year who has already acted in three productions, directed a play, and performed in various dance shows on campus.
Many of the actors are also engaged in other campus shows while rehearsing for “Heathers.” Sophie Brett-Chin ’19 dashed in breathlessly during the rehearsal of the second act, coming from a final rehearsal for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” jumping in to take over her role of Heather Macnamara. Skopicki, who comes from the town next to Brett-Chin’s, reached out to Brett-Chin over the summer about getting involved in drama at Wesleyan, since she knew she had been interested in drama in high school.
Skopicki’s casting process was race-and gender-blind, one aspect of the production that counters the hazy moral concerns of the show as a whole. All the cast members came to the audition with a general love for the movie, but few were familiar with the musical.
Some cast members, like Magee, had specific roles in mind when auditioning.
“I went in for auditioning only for J.D., to be honest,” Magee said.
Magee is one of the many cast members who was previously unaware that there was a musical version of “Heathers” and was pleasantly surprised by what she discovered.
“The way that they use certain music themes over and over again, and the way they use reprises, it’s genius, really,” she said.
So what is it like for Magee to play an angsty teen psychopath?
“J.D. is a lot more than just your crazy psycho kid who likes to kill people,” Magee said. “He generally does think that he’s doing the world good. He has this very complex backstory that informs everything that he does, and it’s so important to keep that in mind with every word, with every action that he does. That’s the difficulty but also the fun of it.”
Other cast members have similarly studied and examined their characters, expressing a thorough understanding of the roles they play. Brett-Chin, for example, whose vapid, cruel character essentially has an emotional breakdown halfway through the show, encountered a challenge in playing what she calls “a mean girl with a soul.”
Sanam Godbole ’19, who plays Heather Chandler, the initial leader of the Heathers, says that she is often told that the role is perfect for her to play.
“I should be offended, I guess,” she said. “But I understand it because I’m pretty sassy, so my role definitely expresses that.”
“Heathers: The Musical” is a slasher crossed with a “Mean Girls” story with a romantic twist, all told in a tone that constantly bounces between humorous, sarcastic, serious, and endearing. And the Wesleyan production promises to be “very” very.
“Heathers” will be performed November 12th-14th at 8PM in Pac 002.