Review: ‘Heathers: The Musical’ — just for fun and suddenly serious

“Heathers: The Musical” is equal parts trashy and juvenile, at least in the first act as it exploits every stereotype about teenagers who are concerned only about popularity and sex, sex, sex. Then, in Act Two, it becomes all serious on us – lost love, unrequited love, teenage suicide and teen mass murder. Could they think of anything else to put in?

Yes! Exploiting homosexuality with crummy gay jokes. Dumb adults who are collective role models for evil. A song called “Shine a Light” that can’t hold a flameless candle to “Hair’s” similarly themed “Let the Sun Shine In.” And more!

If you’d like songs about blue balls, brain freeze, dead gay sons and such, then head over to the Prince Theater, where Vulcan Lyric – formerly Center City Opera Theater – is presenting a well-sung but spotty production of this celebration of meanness. The 1988 film “Heathers” did poorly at theaters but has developed a following from video sales and showings on cable. I didn’t see it, but I know that it comes across as a sense-shocking goof for its time. It’s been turned into a musical by Laurence O’Keefe, who wrote the catchy score for the musical stage version of “Legally Blonde” and Kevin Murphy, who co-wrote the funny stage musical “Reefer Madness.”

For “Heathers: The Musical,” O’Keefe and Murphy adopted a plot so low-down it’s at the bottom of the dumpster. Three girls named Heather monopolize the popularity in their high school, and another girl named Veronica longs to chill with them but appears to hate them nonetheless. She gets her wish – which, of course, costs her dearly. She essentially becomes their slave and is forced into playing their tricks, particularly on the dumpy pal who used to be her best bud. In walks a boy who charms the teeth off Veronica – he’s tall, handsome and dressed all in black so that we know he’s really a psychopath.

The two of them go on to kill … oh, listen, I’m done offering the plot, even to tell it seems like a dirty dive into stereotypes. Let’s just say that its two writers take a tonal shift in the second half. It’s easy to dismiss the first act of “Heathers: The Musical” as a sophomoric trifle, but when the show asks us to take it seriously with heartfelt musical renderings about blowing up a school and the like, you forget about the smell of garbage because it’s overcome by the sensation of phoniness.

In Vulcan Lyric’s favor, it’s great to see the Prince filled with music once again over an extended period. For a while the Prince appeared to be doomed, with solid rental tenants like Curtis Opera Theatre but no management plan and a lot of court hassles about its mortgage and management. This year the Philadelphia Film Society took over the theater, with its 450-seat main venue and smaller performance space upstairs, and Vulcan Lyric is a nice addition to the Prince rental roster.

The Prince was established as an incubator for new musical work. Although “Heathers: The Musical” doesn’t qualify – it had an Off Broadway run at New World Stages last year following other productions – Vulcan Lyric is also presenting three operas, including a world premiere, in its first-ever summer festival. Those works also play at the Prince.

The “Heathers: The Musical” cast is impressive for its voices. Loulu Luzi and Nate Golden also have chemistry together as the leads, and Hanna Gaffney is all attitude as the bitchiest Heather. Lindsay Ronaldson has a fine moment in the spotlight in a song about her first and only boyfriend, if you can call him that. Adam Kaster and Joe Chubb mug their ways through the show as two football-playing oafs, which I suspect is the only way to deliver the overly trite roles. Lindsay Mauck, whose name is misspelled on the official cast-list page – the error mandates that I call her Lindsay Mauk for the sake of this production – makes the most of a touchy-feely high school counselor.

Michael Pacifico leads an excellent seven-piece orchestra. The program lists no one as the sound designer – just as well, given that the sound was crummy the night I saw it, with dead spots for the amplification and microphones that went on and off. And what was director Eric Gibson thinking when he decided to aim a fog machine onto the stage through what appears to be the entire show? Maybe that it would cover the shabby script? It doesn’t.

“Heathers: The Musical,” produced by Vulcan Lyric, runs through August 16 at the Prince Theater, Chestnut Street between Broad and 15th Streets. 215-238-1555 or vulcanlyric.org.

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