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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Fresh Fond du Lac troupe unleashes daring ‘Heathers: The Musical’

Critic At Large

Impact Theatre Company

Program covers. (Warren Gerds)

FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WFRV) – For its first full production, Impact Theatre Company has hauled out a sharp-edged sword of a musical – one that swings wildly.

The story is set in what amounts to be Worst Case Scenario High School.

Bullying. Salacious behavior. Obscene gestures. Intimidation. Arrogance. Cockiness. Meanness. Domination.

And that’s before class starts. There’s more vitriol.

Dark comedy is nearby… “We can be beautiful,” a lyric starts, “just not today.”

Primarily, this production is strongly dramatic.

In some ways, the production is impressive – daring material, muscle in the characterizations and whiz-bang dancing.

In other ways, the show is morally decrepit. To wit: The story has murders passed off as suicides. That’s hard core – but I guess the danger in dealing with that in a show is part of the attraction for people with a taste for jalapeno pepper.

The experience happening in Goodrich Little Theatre comes with a variety of stories.

+ “Heathers: The Musical” is based on the somewhat notorious 1988 film, “Heathers.” While some words used were “cynical,” “cruel” and “subversive,” the movie drew a cult following.

+ Started in late 2019 with impetus delayed by COVID-19, Impact Theatre Company has a goal “to utilize theatre as a form to create discussion on social issues.” An aim is “to partner with a different, local non-profit for each show.” For “Heathers: The Musical,” it is National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a presence of a person and materials in the lobby. One motto on shirts is “It’s okay to not be okay.”

+ In her extensive director’s notes in the printed program, Bree Gens tells a personal saga along with matters to the point about the show: “The raw and intense writing in this show is shocking, but that is what I love about it. The writing takes realities that we don’t want to talk about and puts it in front of you in a dark, humorous, and tragic way.”

+ Some situations in the show are normally not part of musicals – brazen bullying, a teen booze party, female-instigated teen sex, a psychotic leading character.

+ The players – most in their 20s – come with experience. They seriously pull off this production, which has budget limitations expected of a community venture. The first performance Thursday night earned a standing ovation from a fairly well-attended house.

The rest of what happens:

Mackenzie Gens is solid in song and persona as the main character, Veronica, who simply wants to get safely through high school. Veronica kowtows to three mean girls, each named Heather. Her next mistaken choice is an attraction to JD, a heady guy with animal magnetism. Mackenzie Gens/Veronica goes from one explosive situation to another. It’s a dynamic role.

Raymond Sartler is scary as JD. JD can rationalize his every murderous move, and Raymond Sartler has a way of nuancing every smarmy thought with a kind of deadly grace.

Elizabeth Hoch also is outstanding as the dominant Heather, an ice queen of self-serving demands.

Andy Mueller and Adrian Ford also are outstanding as football buddies Ram and Kurt, respectively. Their characters are hormones on the hoof who push their way around school, into Veronica’s life and into deadly trouble.

All around, this cast is committed. The players throw themselves into production numbers and nimble dance moves. There’s a lot of sheer energy afoot.

Inescapable is the creepiness, the extremes in the characters. “Heathers: The Musical” is built for that reaction, especially to JD’s rationale of redeeming social value of his deadly methods of problem solving.

But, whew, its only a show – one with a special dynamism.

My guess is no other theater group in our region will take on “Heathers: The Musical” as a mainstage production. Impact Theatre Company’s production may be a one and only.

***

Creative: Based on film “Heathers” written by Daniel Waters: book, music and lyrics – Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy; director – Bree Gens; musical director – Kevin Flood; choreography – Erin Gerred, Abigail Ford; costumes – Sandra Ford; sound – Isaac Holzman; set design – Bree Gens; set construction – Tom Gens

Cast:

Veronica Sawyer – Mackenzie Gens

JD – Raymond Sartler

Heather Chandler – Elizabeth Hoch

Heather McNamara – Sami Markle

Heather Duke – Nicholas Lamers

Martha Dunnstock – Maria Reber

Ram Sweeney – Andy Mueller

Kurt Kelly – Adrian Ford

Ram’s Dad/Big Bud Dean/Coach Ripper – Jacob Fredrick

Mrs. Fleming/Veronica’s Mom – Danielle Rammer

Kurt’s Dad/Veronica’s Dad/Principal Gowan – Tim Markle

Ensemble – Abigail Ford, Greg Halbur, Al Schmitz, Niki Villa, Sethe Christiansen

Running time: Two hours, 25 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22-23; 2 p.m. Oct. 24

***

Musical selections (recorded instrumental soundtrack)

Act I

“Beautiful” – Veronica, Martha, Ram, Kurt, Principal, Coach, Mrs. Flemming, Students

“Candy Store” – H. Chandler, H. McNamara, H. Duke, Veronica, Martha

“Fight for Me” – Veronica, Ensemble

“Candy Store Playoff” – H. Chandler, H. McNamara, H. Duke, offstage women

“Freeze Your Brain” – JD

“Big Fun” – Ram, Kurt, H. Chandler, H. McNamara, H. Duke Veronica, Martha, Ensemble

“Dead Girl Walking” – Veronica, JD

“Veronica’s Chandler Nightmare” – H. Chandler, Veronica, all Students, Faculty

“The Me Inside of Me” – Veronica, JD, H. Chandler, Officer Milner, Officer McCord, Mrs. Fleming, Students, Teachers

“Never Shut Up Again” – H. Duke, H. McNamara, Ram, Kurt, Ensemble

“Our Love Is God” – JD, Veronica, Kurt, Ram, Kurt

Act II

Entr’Acte – Orchestra

“Prom or Hell?” – Veronica

“My Dead Gay Son” – Ram’s Dad, Kurt’s Dad, Ensemble

“Seventeen” – Veronica, JD

“Shine a Light Fleming” – Students (except Martha), Faculty

“Lifeboat” – H. McNamara

“Shine a Light” (Reprise) – H. Duke, Ensemble

“I Say No” – Veronica, Ensemble

“Hey Yo, Westerberg” – H. McNamara, Students

“Kindergarten Boyfriend” – Martha

“Yo, Girl”/“Meant to Be” – JD, H. Chandler, Ram, Kurt, Students

“Dead Girl Walking” (Reprise) – Veronica, JD, Students

“I Am Damaged” – JD and Veronica

“Seventeen” (Reprise) – Veronica, Martha, H. McNamara, H. Duke, Company

***

THE VENUE: Goodrich Little Theatre is located at 72 W. 9th St. in the former Goodrich High School, today part of the Fond du Lac School District office building. “Little” is a bit of a misnomer. The theater auditorium holds 768. The space is high, somewhat wide and on three seating levels. Tan is a dominant color – seat backs, wall shadings, stage front, etc. Seats are metal-backed, with tiny check-like multicolor fabric in the seat cushions and backs and wooden arm rests. The floor is concrete, with carpeted aisles in a tan pattern. Side walls rise from a flat cream-colored surface, to smallish tan bricks to vertical, dark pattern wavy surfaces (for acoustical purposes). The stage is raised approximately three feet above the floor of the seating area. Steps up to the stage on either side are in inset areas. Being part of an active building, the lobby and all the necessities of theatergoing are well-kempt.

THE PERSON: Lowell P. Goodrich was superintendent of Fond du Lac Public Schools from the early 1920s to 1941. When he died in 1949, he was superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

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