Friday, April 15, 2016

More on Heathers

*** The following post contains spoilers ***

Some stray thoughts after seeing Heathers the musical.

My favorite songs: Fight for Me, Dead Girl Walking, Seventeen.

To folks who say Heathers is odd source material for a musical I say murder and suicide are common musical tropes. They've fueled classical opera for decades. Heathers only contains one more teen death than West Side Story. 

Many remember Heathers as a black comedy but the biggest laughs and quotable lines vanish about a quarter into the story. Then it tilts closer to horror.

Murphy and O'Keefe's scores to Bat Boy, Legally Blonde, and Heathers lack satisfying finales. I find they front-load their best songs in the first act. Duncan Sheik's two murder-suicide musicals, Spring Awakening and American Psycho also suffer from ballad heavy second acts as things turn "serious." But to be fair even the great Sweeney Todd lacks an 11 o'clock number.

The adults in Heathers the movie and West Side Story are clueless. The teachers in Spring Awakening are sadistic but the parents are given a brief moment to mourn the deaths. The adults in Heathers the musical are grotesque caricatures who are completely indifferent to teenage suicides. Their lame "comedy numbers" are low points that keep the show from greatness.

The movie Heathers included a date rape. The musical Heathers settles at attempted rape set to a "comedy song." Some critics found the song "Blue" funny. I was squicked out. Your mileage may vary.

Tone is a challenge. The story has at least four endings which alter the piece considerably. The producers vetoed the first two screenplays. I'd heard of the ending where everyone dies and dances in heaven. In a 2014 interview screenwriter Daniel Waters also mentions another:

"The ending I should’ve fought harder for is where Martha Dumptruck pulls out a knife, stabs Veronica, and says, “F— you, Heather.” And Veronica’s on the ground laughing, with a knife in her stomach, saying, “My name’s not Heather. My name’s not Heather.”"

Grim stuff. The film settled for the death of the "villain." The musical goes one step further with the attempted redemption of the protagonist. Some have criticized the musical for missing the point by softening the protagonist. Seeing it myself I was uncertain they were sincere. The "happy ending" seemed rushed and cynical which somehow made it even more disturbing. I'd say by that point in the story Veronica's about as redeemable as Mrs. Lovett.

EDIT : Thinking more on it, the fact that Veronica seduces some audience members into her worldview, and presenting herself as the heroine, may be the most subversive thing about Heathers the musical. The screenplay's cut endings took J.D's point of view but Veronica's may be just as toxic.

I also don't buy Veronica's insistence that all kids are "beautiful" and kind before they reach high school. I remember plenty of kids being just as toxic in middle school and parts of elementary school.

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