Beautiful: The Multi-Generational Draw of Heathers The Musical
Beautiful. There is no other word that more accurately describes the culture that is Heathers. I was informed that originally, the musical adaptation of the classic 1989 film - led by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy - was intended to reel in the generation above me, targeting those who grew up with the dark teenage dramedy. However, it also ended up reeling in a much younger audience.
Why do I think we were so drawn to the musical? Veronica’s relatable awkwardness, the stagecraft of JD’s character being attractive, hazardous, and sensitive at the same time, and the glamorization of the godly Heathers appeals to us as teenagers because of its alluring nature. And it’s not only enticing to the adolescent eye because of its charisma, but the message that is communicated through the show as a whole hits hard.
I cannot express the importance of Heathers the Musical being adjusted for a high school stage. At Texas Thespians Festival this past December, the responses from the students were overwhelmingly positive. The message of the show was effective because kids were able to receive it from actors of the same age. They were able to relate to the situations, such as abusive relationships, eating disorders, insecurity, losing friends, losing friends to suicide, internal thoughts of suicide.
After our first show, we were Instagram messaged by an audience member - and now a dear friend of ours - Kyle Gentry. He shared with us that two months ago to that day, his best friend Izzy took her own life. Izzy was an outgoing, gorgeous 16-year-old girl who loved music and playing the violin. She was very smart and dressed to her personality: super cool. Izzy had an indie, grunge style, and could be described as unique and loving. Kyle said Izzy was his very first friend when he first moved to Texas. About to sit alone at the front of the bus, Kyle heard his name called from one of the seats in the back. Izzy, after hearing that he was new and didn't know anyone, made him sit next to her and would not take no for an answer.
Kyle recalls Izzy always being embracing and accepting of everyone. He said she touched his heart in the most amazing ways throughout their friendship. When we got to meet Kyle, he told us how much the show impacted him, how his current situation connected him with it. On the surface, it seems very unexpected for a girl like Izzy to be struggling. But, we don't expect the Heather MacNamara’s to be in pain when they seem so fine on the outside.
Throughout the show, the repetition of the word “beautiful” serves as a trigger for the audience to determine what that word means at that point in the show. “Beautiful” is continuously transforming its definition to embody a whole different concept. The contrast of the first and last song utilizing “beautiful” is drastic, being that by the end of the show, “beautiful” takes on the role of representing an entirely new, deeper understanding of what it really is. The story builds itself up to be resolved at the end, stressing that everyone is dealing with their own mess, and that “we’re all damaged, we’re all frightened, we're all freaks but that's alright.” The theme struck a chord within teenagers at Texas Thespians Festival because it is so relevant to our lives. It is comforting to think about how many kids, just like Kyle, were influenced by the musical.
Performing Heathers as high school students to other high school students was a necessary and life-changing experience. An actor’s ultimate goal is to connect with your audience and to let them experience the story. The satisfaction of knowing that we had succeeded at doing our job, and sharing the message we knew we wanted to broadcast, was nothing short of beautiful.