‘Heathers: The Musical’ opens at Marietta College tonight

Photo contributed by Marietta College Sophie Wheeler, lead actress in the Marietta College production of “Heathers the Musical,” brandishes a croquet mallet during a recent rehearsal. The college theater department will stage six shows, starting tonight.

MARIETTA — The Marietta College theater department production of “Heathers the Musical” opens tonight at the Hermann Fine Arts Center with a cast of 17 and a five-piece band.

It sets to music the independent film of 1988 that took a bleak but darkly comic look at the stereotypical high school story.

Desperate for acceptance and popularity at fictional Westerburg High School in Ohio, Veronica Sawyer becomes aligned with the Heathers, a group of three girls who share that name and are the social axis around which the students turn. The play chronicles the moral depths to which Veronica sinks in her pursuit of keeping the Heathers’ approval. Murder, suicide, and depravity are some milestones on that road.

It sounds grim, but theater professor Melissa Grande said both the film and the musical have an enormous audience.

“‘Heathers’ is probably the hottest new musical for young people,” she said. “It has a huge following, the music is great, college students love it. We actually have fan groups here who have told me they want to meet the cast in costume.”

The play and the music speak across generations, she said, while addressing topics such as bullying, school violence, anxiety, depression and youth suicide that have become part of an urgent public conversation in recent years.

“Every high school has awful people, and when Veronica sees the Heathers and says, ‘I would do anything to be like that,’ she gets her wish,” Grande said. “It’s another way of saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ We all felt like that, with bullies and popular people, it’s everybody just trying to survive, it never changes.”

The musical is a tough project to stage and a hard road for the cast, she said. The 17-member cast and five-piece band have put in six weeks of rehearsal.

“It’s incredibly challenging. The music is difficult, and the main characters go through a lot,” Grande said. “It’s adult material that includes drug and alcohol use, bullying, suicide, and in sort of an ironic twist, murder. There are added challenges in special effects and technical elements.”

Freshman Sophie Wheeler, a graduate of Buckeye Trail High School in Cambridge, landed the lead role in the production shortly after she started at Marietta College.

“Veronica is a dream role in an up-and-coming, very popular show,” she said Wednesday. “Veronica is kind of an outcast, she has only one good friend, she’s at the bottom of the high school food chain. I can just relate to that on all levels.”

Wheeler, who said she’s been in theater studies for six years, said she jumped into the rehearsals two weeks after her classes started.

Because she is taking primarily theater and music courses, she’s gotten some consideration from her instructors but still undergoing some strain with late rehearsals and the attention the role requires. She says the musical encapsulates important messages.

“It shows how willing people are to achieve that level of popularity and how many things they are willing to sacrifice, how obsessive people can become and how relationships can turn, how quickly people can change. Suddenly, it’s all going awry,” she said.

Grande said that in addition to being a hit with audiences, ‘Heathers’ also is a great training ground for career-seeking students.

“It’s a pretty unique show, but the whole movement of adapting movies for musicals – think of ‘Mean Girls’, ‘Legally Blonde’ – this is a genre that won’t go away,” she said. “We’re training people to make a living.”

The show premiers today at 8 p.m. and runs for another five performances: Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and at 8 p.m. Nov. 15, 16 and 17, all in the Friederich Theatre in the Hermann Fine Arts Center on the campus, at 500 Butler St.

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Performance Schedule

* 8 p.m. today

* 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday

* 8 p.m. Nov. 15

* 8 p.m. Nov. 16

* 8 p.m. Nov. 17

* All performances at Hermann Fine Arts Center, Marietta College campus, 500 Butler St.

* Tickets start at $15

* For information: marietta.edu/event/heathers-musical

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