Birds don’t do it, but bees do, and so does the Amarillo College Theatre Department. I speak, of course, of cross-pollination, the former for the good of all nature, and the latter for the good of the arts in Amarillo.
AC, in five performances in late April and early May, used dramatis personae not only from the college, but also from WTAMU and Amarillo Little Theatre, as well as some high schoolers to stage Heathers – The Musical.
The attempt was bold and intentional and an unqualified success. Director Ray Newburg said he now anticipates such a collaboration every couple of years. It’s a win-win situation.
The production, as stand-alone, was dicey due to content. But, this season Heathers had company in Fun Home at Amarillo Little Theatre and Spring Awakening at WTAMU(see reviews). Though the three works span more than a century in creation, all impact with a shock art intensity that takes no prisoners.
And this is the only weakness of Heathers. Termed a dark comedy, one can argue that there’s nothing funny about teen mass-murder, suicides, bullying, sexual abuse and eating disorders. Oh yes, throw in sexual experimentation.
Such criticisms have assailed the stage since Aristophanes Lysistrata made mirth and raised hackles using the twin topics of brutal war and weaponized sex 2500 years ago.
This musical adaptation hit close to home, as the behaviors portrayed from thirty years ago were both aberrant and fringe, but now, unfortunately, have become mainstream. To enjoy this production, one has to distance themselves from the relevance and focus purely on the stage realities.
Those realities were impressive. Newburg said that over fifty auditioned for myriad parts and getting the right mix posed a huge problem. But solve it he did, ’cause the play worked!
The plot, intricate as high-tech circuitry, flowed, thanks to the skill of the actors and congenial interaction of the directors.
The stage set, as multi-purpose as furniture shown in Tiny House Nation, adapted variously as bedroom,school room, school gym, living room and cemetery.
The cast made their characters credible and dynamic. The group of Heathers were spot on: Queen of Mean Heather Chandler played by Kenzi Redwine; Just Plain Mean Heather Duke by Lauren Landtroop; Doesn’t Have to be Mean Heather McNamara played by Veronica Crawley, and all WTAMU students.
Dani Seager played the demanding role of Veronica Sawyer, and though only a recent high-school graduate, navigated the thin ice of clueless to conniving, all serving the higher cause of survival, with aplomb and mature elegance.
Other characters deserve mention. Joseph Ward as Ram and Ryan Sustaita as Kurt are the totally detestable jerk jocks, while Sabrina Ann Soto garners sympathy as the pranked victim Martha Dunnstock.
And Skylar Kent seizes the stage as the charismatic Baudelaire-quoting new kid who gradually morphs into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde malignancy.
Amidst all of the plot intricacies, the cast sang, in solo or ensemble, more than twenty numbers. Guess that’s why it’s a musical.
The female roles seemed especially demanding. When asked whether he had to direct the ladies up to the requisite intensity, Newburg simply said “No!” He credited the Musical Director Mila Abbasova and Choreographer Kelbi Havins with shaping the characters, which then naturally coalesced in dialogue. So simple when you think about it.
Each performance was packed, with a cross section of all ages, especially young people, the latter enjoying the dated dialect of the 80’s.
The fact that this Off-Broadway play, blatantly challenging social mores and conventions was performed in this redder-than-red part of Texas is testimony to the courageous artists involved and the institutions that support them.
Thanks to the presence of provocative, unapologetic theatre in this unlikely place, along with all the attendant creative art forms, we say, with pride, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!