The pitch-black comedy with quirky dialogue has been retooled with songs to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the film that made stars out of Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty.
The 1989 movie quite shockingly mocked teen suicide, schoolhouse violence and the public grieving process that follows both. Some lines—"Greetings and salutations" and "What is your damage, Heather?"—became classics.
This time, Barrett Wilbert Weed stars in Ryder's old role of Veronica, the lucky girl invited to hang out with the popular clique, a trio of beautiful, horribly mean, corn nut-eating, scrunchie-wearing teens named Heather who play croquet in blazers.
Weed, who was an understudy in the Broadway production of "Lysistrata Jones," was in diapers when the film came out but quickly connected with it a few years ago when she caught it on Netflix.
"It instantly became one of my favorite movies," says Weed, who began emailing her representatives to land the musical's lead as soon as she heard about it. "I wrote, 'I don't care where they're doing it, if they're doing it in a basement, I will kill everyone.'"
That's an appropriately dark response to a film that was a welcome antidote to the saccharin-sweet John Hughes films like "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" or "Pretty in Pink." It also created the mold for subversive schoolgirl comedies to come, from "Clueless" to "Mean Girls.
Weed's scary love interest will be Ryan McCartan, who has a recurring role in the Disney Channel series "Liv and Maddie." He landed Slater's old role: the unstable new kid who methodically picks off the bullies via faked suicides and explosive pep rallies.
McCartan stumbled across the film's idiosyncratic language while having lunch a few years back in college. He heard his friend say "Oh, how very" and wondered what that meant. McCartan soon found out when he watched the film, which he found refreshing.
"Not only is it not dated, but I think it's more relevant now. Bullying is not going away," he said. "As a matter of fact, now that there's Twitter and Facebook, bullying is global. Anyone can attack anyone and they don't need a face."
The musical features music by "Reefer Madness" lyricist and co-book writer Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe, a Tony award-nominee for "Legally Blonde." It's directed by Andy Fickman, with choreography by Emmy Award winner Marguerite Derricks. It opens March 31 off-Broadway at the New World Stages complex.
Weed and McCartan hadn't met before they were cast—he in person in Los Angeles, she via video in New York—but they seem like old pals in person. Both tall and dark, they nickname each other the Prince and Princess of Darkness.
He was raised in suburban Minnesota and won a 2011 National High School Musical Theater Award. Despite his good looks and talent, McCartan faced some small minds back home.
"If the boys do the dancing and the singing, they're immediately weak, gay—any name you could possibly throw at them. Didn't matter how good you were, didn't matter how passionate you were, didn't matter how nice you were," he said.
Weed, who grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Elon University, knows the feeling: A willowy beauty with huge, expressive eyes, she confesses to being bullied, too.
"Tall silly girls who don't have a filter and tend to express themselves a lot usually get picked on," she said. "I was completely brutalized for my entire childhood. I'm still recovering from that."
McCartan suspects everyone in the "Heathers" cast was bullied or had a Heather reigning in their high school. So there's more than a little feeling of delicious revenge in the musical.
"It feels really good to go out onstage and not only vent those frustrations but also commiserate with the audience of people who have come to share this idea that life sucks sometimes, but we journey on," he said.
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