April 11, 2022
The UW–Madison Department of Theater and Drama’s newest production, “Heathers the Musical,” will be a hilarious, heartfelt, and homicidal show based on the 1980s cult classic film. Directed by Jake Penner, an artistic associate for American Players Theatre, performances will take place April 14-24 in the department’s Robert E. Mitchell Theater at Vilas Hall.
The show tells the darkly delicious story of Veronica, who is desperate to join the ruthless clique “The Heathers.” After falling for the new bad boy, JD, Veronica is kicked out of the clique and the pair resolve to rid Westerberg High School of the cruelly popular elite forever.
In a preview of the show published in Madison Magazine, Penner says he’s had his eyes on “Heathers” for a while now.
“They called me and said, ‘Do you want to do it?'” Penner recalls. “I was like, do you want to do it?”
His question, the article explains, is tied to the show’s “tricky, midnight-black subject matter,” including “everything from teen suicide, date rate, and murder to homophobia, bullying, and bulimia.” Though upbeat songs in the musical “put more of a candy-coated sheen on the proceedings” than in the 1989 film, the story is still as “dark and disquieting as it ever was.”
But Penner says he sees “more than just a blackly comic take on high school here — there’s also a deeper political struggle at play.”
“More than almost any other show, ‘Heathers’ illustrates the instinct to find safety in a group of humans,” he says. “In a sense, it gets at the point of every drama: How do we live cooperatively in a group while remaining true to ourselves?”
Natalie Matthai, a UW–Madison senior majoring in marketing and theater and drama, plays Heather Duke — one of three Heathers — in the show. She tells Madison Magazine that playing the role feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“She’s in the shadows,” Matthai says of her character. “That’s the really challenging thing — she’s dominated, and then she tries dominating. She’s like a puppy who has been kicked a lot, but she truly thinks she can do it better.”
Matthai says she appreciates that this production will feature a cast of college students who are close to the “horrors of high school.” While Penner agrees, he notes the show’s universality:
“I would challenge anyone to tell me they don’t find real life reflected on stage in this show,” he says. “How do we stay respectful of our true selves?”
Tickets for “Heathers the Musical” are now on sale for all performances – visit Campus Arts Ticketing or call 608-265-2787 for more information.