‘Heathers’ tackles tough teen topics with ‘high-energy black comedy’


“If jukebox musicals are for baby boomers, musicals inspired by films are emphatically for their children and grandchildren,” says Hadley Freeman, writing for The Guardian in 2018. Among those musicals on London’s West End at the time was “Heathers,” a reimagining of the 1988 cult film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Described as a “high-energy black comedy,” it tackles tough topics like bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault and school violence with songs like “Dead Girl Walking,” “The Me Inside of Me,” “Lifeboat” and “Seventeen.”

“Heathers” comes to life for two nights only this summer as an indie production helmed by Kailey Miller Erwin, who produced a night of Broadway music titled “All Together Now” in 2021 and wrote an original opera, “the game,” as her master’s thesis in 2022. She answered these questions about “Heathers” for The Free Weekly.

Q. How did this production come about? Was it a show you wanted to do so much you decided on an indie production?

A. I suggested it to other companies and just decided to do it myself this summer! I wanted to provide another opportunity for local actors this summer and just decided to make it happen.

Q. What do you love about the show? What are the challenges and rewards it offers for your cast?

A. I love how this show has the ability to provoke deep thought and feeling among the cast and audience. The songs are great, the actors are great, but the emotional impact of this show is one of its better aspects. However, this is certainly one of the challenges of this show for the cast: there are characters that exhibit personality extremes that are difficult to portray. I think the cast is rewarded by this show because it stretches them as performers.

Q. How did you mount it as an indie production? Did you get any grants or any kind of support?

A. The first important thing to me was securing the venue, so I did that before I even advertised auditions or secured the rights for the show. The Medium has been awesome to work with and is super reasonably priced. We didn’t get any grants, but I’m hoping we can in the future. The actors paid to cover a portion of the rights and venue.

Q. I know you have cast members juggling other shows. How do you work around that logistically, but more important, how do you work around it creatively?

A. Logistics have been difficult. We have been rehearsing on the weekends with whoever can come, and sporadically throughout the week with cast members not involved with other shows. I’ve tried to hold off on doing any deep dives into the material until the other shows are wrapped up to try to take some pressure off those cast members involved in another production. Starting July 31, we will be consumed with “Heathers” until we close, so we’ll have nine days to weave it together.

Q. What do you hope audience members are talking about when they leave the theater?

A. I hope audience members are talking about the importance of the issues featured in the show. Our lobby will feature ways audience members can help in our community relating to the issues as well. I would love to see you at this show, but keep these topics in mind as trigger warnings: physical violence, gun violence, sexual harassment, attempted rape, suicide, and homicide.



‘Heathers: The Musical’

WHEN — 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8-10; doors open at 5:45 p.m.

WHERE — The Medium, 214 S. Main St. in Springdale

COST — $35 general admission, $20 student; you can also pay at the door with a credit card, but a small fee will apply

INFO — Email kaileymiller25@gmail.com; for tickets Venmo AR Sings @heathersatthemedium


Look Here!

Watch some video from rehearsal at nwaonline.com/730heathers/




Thoughts From The Cast

Claire Ward of Fayetteville plays Veronica Sawyer, the wanna-be sucked in by the Heathers.

“Shockingly enough, I hadn’t heard about the show,” she says. “My voice teacher picked ‘Lifeboat’ from this show as a good song to add to my audition portfolio, and then heard someone was producing the show through the grapevine. This is my first show after 10-plus years away from the theater world, so I was excited to put my all into this one and I’m grateful I did — it’s one pretty great cast.

“What I love about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of being human. Being human is being uncool — ‘we’re all freaks and that’s all right.’ It dismantles what ‘cool’ really means, and I think that’s why this show has such a cult following.”

Trey Smith of Fayetteville plays the destructive JD.

“I don’t really believe that there is such a thing as a totally good or totally bad character. That is, except for Jason Dean. He is just bad. He’s got the charisma of a Ted Bundy, but the moral compass of … just kidding; he doesn’t have a moral compass.

“I was pretty involved in high school, but I was also an extroverted AP kid who loved people, so finding JD has been pretty difficult just because we would have been polar opposites. A lot of the work has been me saying ‘OK, how would Trey have handled this situation?’ Then doing the opposite.”

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