Dark comedy musical 'Heathers' makes its Jerusalem debut

With a body count almost as high as The Godfather and a tagline "best friends, social trends and occasional murder," Heathers is an edgier performance for the capital crowd.

 PLAYING BULLYING jocks are Dolev Hayat as Kurt Kelly (L) and Gadi Zaig as Ram Sweeney. (photo credit: Noa Goldsmith)
PLAYING BULLYING jocks are Dolev Hayat as Kurt Kelly (L) and Gadi Zaig as Ram Sweeney.
(photo credit: Noa Goldsmith)

Big hair and big shoulder pads are coming back, not in fashion but on stage in Jerusalem, starting in early March, when Starcatcher Theater (www.starcatcherjlm.com) performs the musical version of Heathers for six performances, starting on March 3 and running until March 26. It will be performed at the Beit Maziya Theater in the center of town, in collaboration with the Incubator Theater.

If you associate English-language theater in Jerusalem with more traditional productions such as My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls, you will probably be intrigued to learn that onstage fare in the Holy City has changed, in a big way. Starcatcher was founded in 2013 and in recent years, it has put on productions of newer musicals such as In the Heights, Spring Awakening, Rent, Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors.

Still, isn’t Heathers, which is based on the 1988 teen comedy written by Daniel Waters and starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater and has almost as high a body count as The Godfather, a little too edgy for the capital crowd? After all, the original film was advertised with the tagline, “Best friends, social trends and occasional murder.”

Not at all, according to its director Yaeli Greenblatt. “It is a dark musical and it is very edgy. We were thinking about this when we chose the audience. We made an attempt to challenge the audience.” She noted that part of the reason Starcatcher was founded was to present a kind of theater that was fresh and new but which might possibly be too much for the most conservative theatergoers, who continue to be well served by other theater that is available here.

Those who only know Heathers from the movie and are unfamiliar with the musical, which was a hit on the West End in London and Off-Broadway in New York, might be surprised that it is not quite as dark as the movie, according to Greenblatt.

The cast of 'Heathers' (credit: Noa Goldsmith)The cast of 'Heathers' (credit: Noa Goldsmith)

“Is it an edgy crazy show? It still is. But the musical is sweeter and the music makes it more fun to experience,” she said. The two-act show has more than 20 musical numbers, with some mixing and matching of songs from the British and American productions, which were slightly different. But even though there are songs with titles like “Dead Gay Son,” “Freeze Your Brain” and “Dead Girl Walking,” Greenblatt is certain that audiences will be able to get into the anarchic spirit of the show, where no holds are barred when it comes to high-school rivalries and revenge. “There is a large audience who is excited about what we do.”

LIKE THE movie, the musical tells the story of Veronica, a sensitive high-school student in a school ruled by three mean girls named Heather and entitled obnoxious jocks. Veronica ends up partnering with J.D., a soulful but somewhat dangerous guy, to give the cool kids what they have coming but things get out of hand.

 THE AVENGING couple: Daniel Fox as Jason ‘J.D.’ Dean (L) and Michal Hass as Veronica Sawyer. (credit: Noa Goldsmith) THE AVENGING couple: Daniel Fox as Jason ‘J.D.’ Dean (L) and Michal Hass as Veronica Sawyer. (credit: Noa Goldsmith)

“It’s a crazy dark comedy, but it also has emotional resonance, it speaks to people about their own difficulties in high school... It’s like a horror version of a John Hughes film. Heathers was the film that created the ‘Mean Girls’ trope.”

But while a lot of the characters are divas, the actors have been a joy to work with, said Greenblatt. “We have great actors; they’re really giving it their all... The hardest thing for our actors this year was to take on some of the negativity that is required in this dystopian high school setting and to have to be bullies and be mean.”

As is always the case in Jerusalem English-language theater, while the participants are passionate about what they do, they all have day jobs. Greenblatt, born to American and Israeli parents, is a dancer and choreographer who is getting a doctorate in English literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is writing her dissertation on James Joyce. The cast includes teachers, hi-tech workers and music students, as well as Gadi Zaig, a breaking-news editor at The Jerusalem Post. There will be a live band of seven professional musicians onstage when the show is performed.

In the interest of making sure that audiences are prepared for the show’s tone, there will be warnings on the posters, saying that it is recommended that people under 16 see the show with an adult. The warning is just a guideline, she said, acknowledging that some under 16-year-olds may be familiar with the material and be well equipped to deal with it.

Some of the actors are religious and Greenblatt said that she worked to make sure they were at ease with the parts they played. “We work with what’s comfortable for the actors here; we stage it in a way that works for us and an audience. But we don’t believe in censorship and changing the show in terms of what would work here.” What you will see is the real Heathers, she said.

“It’s an exaggerated, dark comedy. You will see it the way they wrote it. It’s a critique and it’s a satire. And it’s a lot of fun.”

Performance dates throughout March. For more information and to purchase tickets: incubator.org.il/heathers