What are you supposed to do when you’re on the freakin’ bus again because all your rides to school are dead? Sing about it, maybe?
Maybe not, but that response just about sums up the plot of the musical Heathers.
On March 14, Brock Musical Theatre brought the uncomfortably hilarious cult classic to life at the Performing Arts Centre. You wouldn’t expect discussions of suicide and bullying (among many other hard topics) to uplift the room with an infectious energy which makes you want to sing along when you’re not busy laughing, yet that’s exactly what Heathers achieved. After months of hard work, Brock Musical Theatre not only succeeded in bringing the classic Heathers energy, but amping it up tenfold.
Grace Martins and Austin Gagnier starred as Veronica and JD, respectively, the couple trapped in the middle of the sudden suicide craze overtaking Westerburg High. Portraying unforgettable, iconic lead characters is a lofty responsibility, yet both Martins and Gagnier nailed their roles with pitch perfect accuracy.
Martins was charismatic even when portraying nervousness so believably that it felt tangible. Every time she sang, she shocked the audience to life with sheer vocal power. Both renditions of “Dead Girl Walking” were where she shone most, a myriad of emotions portrayed through already stunning vocals.
Gagnier felt like the main star of the show, commanding attention even when he was off brooding over Baudelaire in the background. For two hours, he fully embodied JD, feeling effortlessly real as he embraced the darkly dreamy outsider that Veronica falls for, but also capable of building to horrifying intensity as the night went on. With every slight intonation and quick expression of Gagnier’s — even when spitting up blood or brandishing a gun — JD felt scarily real.
Scenes where Martins and Gagnier played off of each other were the best Heathers had to offer, especially when their voices melted together to harness an unexpected power on songs like “Seventeen” and “Our Love Is God”.
The Heathers (Candice De Freitas Braz as Chandler, Brittney Journeau as Duke and Shannon Fletcher as McNamara) were delightfully evil, each bringing an irresistible yet terrible charm to their roles that made Westerburg’s infatuation with them seem plausible. Snide smiles permanently in place, every insult they hurled at the rest of the cast was hit with flawless, comedic timing.
The biggest surprise of the show was seeing Veronica’s outcast best friend, Martha Dunnstock, in a whole new light thanks to Carlene Drolet’s sympathetic performance. Heathers is full of crudely funny, high-energy numbers built around showcasing the entire cast. As a result, Martha’s heartfelt song “Kindergarten Boyfriend” has often been forgettable. Yet, when Drolet stepped out to sing it by herself, it was the first time in my history of being a Heathers fan that I wished Martha got more to do in the play. Due to Drolet’s portrayal, it wound up being one of the most memorable songs of the night.
Ethan Boc and Marcus Tranquilli were scene stealers as dumb jocks Kurt and Ram, just as entertaining with bullet wounds and bloodied mouths as getting ready for the big party in duck slippers, but nothing could top their performance of “Blue,” in which even their smallest of movements set the audience alight with uncomfortable giggles.
Equally as memorable were the pair’s fathers — Veronica and JD’s relationship was long forgotten when Taj Crozier and Tyler Langos created a room full of screams and cheers during their big, passionate “My Dead Gay Son” kiss.
Even the smallest of details in Brock’s version of Heathers felt right at home — De Freitas Braz’s shrill screams of Veronica’s name could have been sound bites pulled from the 1989 film. Heathers truly took the “no small roles” sentiment of theatre to heart, as even the background characters felt like main ones. At the mention of cameras, Young Republicanette (Paige McLaughlin) was quick to pull out finger guns and gesture to her Reagan and Bush shirt. Whispers during intermission told me I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep my eyes off of Kat Anderson as a character only known as Goth Chick, hilariously throwing up horns, rolling her eyes and even storming off the stage in inappropriate moments.
Directors Quynn Oates and Jenna Freeland have managed to set a whole new standard for Brock Musical Theatre going forward. Every aspect of their Heathers was unforgettable. The night breezed by quickly due to sheer enjoyment, leaving me wanting to relive it all over again and wondering how it could possibly be topped next year — in the words of Heather Chandler, it felt “bigger than John Lennon.”