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High school really is a battleground in Heathers: The Musical

A dark 1980s teen comedy that’s become something of a cult classic film, Heathers may seem an unlikely candidate for a stage musical, but it’s become just that.

First launched in 2010, Heathers: The Musical is now being staged by a group of young performers in the latest outing for the Singer’s Theatre.

As with the original Daniel Waters film, which this month marks its 30th anniversary, the play explores serious themes such as bullying, cliques, eating disorders and suicide. In this iteration, it’s directed by Elmira’s Gord Davis, no stranger to working with young actors.

“The show’s going to be awesome,” said Davis of preparations for this weekend’s shows. “It is set in 1989, [though] there are some early-90s references in there – the kind of a thing that people will recognize – but we’re sort of not stating that it’s 1989, we’re saying ‘this could be anytime.’ So our costuming and everything is very neutral, very stylized.”

The play incorporates modern elements as well, including various well-known hashtags that relate to themes presented.

“We’re actually putting the cast in black bottoms and white T-shirts,” explained Davis. “And on the backs of the T-shirts there is going to be #NeverAgain, some of them will have #MeToo, some of them will have #StopBullyingNow, and then #LetsTalk. So we’re going to do those four because those are the four main issues that are dealt with in the play.”

Actors starring in the play range from ages 14-24, and have different levels of experience in theatre. The Singer’s Theatre provides a summer training ground for young performers, with kids from as far away as Alberta and British Columbia and, closer to home, Burlington, Oakville and Oshawa. Some of them are from the townships, the jaunt to Waterloo being an easy one.

“Obviously, some of the younger ones haven’t had a whole of experience,” said Davis. “I know at least one that hasn’t been on stage before. But some of our older ones are graduates of the [Wilfrid] Laurier [University] vocal program.”

Each actor received their scripts at the end of June and had the month of July to memorize their lines before rehearsing for the musical. They rehearse 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with direction from the experts to perfect their performance.

“Well, it’s not exactly [difficult] picking it up,” said Parker Merlihan, an actor from Elmira who plays quarterback Kurt in the play. “We’ve been learning it for a good month-and-a-half before that. We were given the scripts before and expected to know the music and whatnot. So definitely having that makes it easier. But it is a bit of a challenge.”

“It’s challenging to put it all together in two weeks,” added Jasmine Thuroo, another Elmira actor who plays a ghost in the play. “There’s a lot of dark content. The aim is hopefully trying to start the conversation on all of these topics.”

Davis says the intensive training program works well with his take on directing.

“It’s really stylized,” said Davis, a retired EDSS drama teacher. “I did a lot of stuff when I was teaching; there was a style that I developed.

And then when I started working with Singer’s Theatre, we adapted that style to this two-week intensive program.”

The film was adapted into a stage musical in 2010 by Andy Fickman. Since then, it has completed a successful global run through New York, London, Los Angeles and Sydney. The plot is very similar to the film, albeit a little more light-hearted than the original.

Tickets are priced at $21, with a dollar from every ticket sold going to March For Our Lives, a student-led movement that supports tighter gun control laws.

Tickets can be purchased at Ticket Scene or at the door of the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts at 36 King St. W., Kitchener. The musical will take place this weekend, Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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