You might not think teen angst, sex, murder, and ghosts would be perfect subject material for a musical, but the creators of “Heathers: The Musical” will prove you wrong. The show reinvents the classic cult comedy starring Winona Ryder as a rock musical for the ages, following lead character Veronica through the drama of high school cliques into a living nightmare with a considerably high body count. Actor’s Express presents the new production this weekend, in collaboration with student actors from Oglethorpe University. Alexandria Joy, who plays Veronica, and Zion Glenn, who plays the jock character Ram, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes along with co-director and Oglethorpe’s associate professor of Theatre Matt Huff to talk about the show, its motley cast and crew, and the gruesome and hilarious tale they’ll spin together.
“It’s a story about a young teen girl, and it’s also a coming of age story in a way. She’s a very brilliant human being, but she’s surrounded by people who don’t understand her,” said Joy. “The cliques are just everywhere… She actually gets in with the most popular group in school, and it ends up becoming this terrible, terrible experience because she finds out how dark, and cold, and mean, and nasty these girls are.”
Veronica, unwittingly swept into a series of disastrous misadventures, ends up involved in lies, betrayal, and even murder. The extreme circumstances where the characters in “Heathers” find themselves go so far, it lends a comic quality to the cautionary tale. “Karma plays a huge part in this show,” said Joy. Huff added, “The extreme actions that these characters take to enact revenge on the popular group, they get completely out of hand, and Veronica gets wound up in something that she never even thought possible… How far is too far?”
Joy related to her character’s misfit qualities, sharing her own complicated position in high school, where she had felt both included and singled out. “The truth is, I was a high school cheerleader,” said Joy. “When my mother remarried and I moved to Canton, Georgia, I was suddenly struck with an all-white high school. I am biracial, and I just never grew up in a school environment like that. So even though I was a cheerleader, and I was in the ‘in’ crowd, I was definitely always ‘othered.’ It was always made known that I was just not quite like them.”
Glenn spoke of himself as a “full-on arts kid” in high school, though he plays a jock in “Heathers: The Musical.” “I was kind of a wild kid in high school, so I was always the person they would come to whenever there was a dance party… They always came to me whenever I had to hype the crowd up. There’s a lot of moments like that in Heathers, so that’s what I choose to draw from,” said Glenn.
Actors in the musical come not just from the professional theater company Actor’s Express, but also the student body of Oglethorpe University. The show will be some students’ first-ever chance to participate in a professional-level stage production. The collaboration came about when Actor’s Express needed to seek an alternative venue for the production, due to difficulty meeting COVID protocols. “As we began talking about ideas, the thought of producing something during our academic semester that would be both, equally, a show for our academic program season, and a show at Actor’s Express, became really exciting to us, and would allow us to involve the students in really exciting and upfront ways,” said Huff.
“For me, it was honestly a wild ride,” said Glenn. “I’ve been doing theater for a while, but I’ve never done it at this level of professionalism. One of the best things about coming into the space and working with a professional was that [Director] Freddie [Ashley] said it very early on that there was no hierarchy… I feel we were all just able to bond over that, and just became an amazing cast. We were having so much fun together.”
Joy, a member of Actor’s Express making her debut with the company, said, “It was such a breath of fresh air to see such amazing young minds… they are just so hungry for knowledge and experience, and to work and to perform.”
“Heathers: The Musical” opens Sept. 29 at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center, and runs through Oct. 17. Tickets and information are available at www.actors-express.com/plays/heathers-the-musical.