Dougherty Valley Drama brings big fun to the stage with “Heathers: The Musical”

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  • DV’s drama production put a vibrant spin on “Heathers: The Musical.”

  • DV’s drama production put a vibrant spin on “Heathers: The Musical.”

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After weeks of dedicated promotion, Dougherty Valley’s Drama program performed “Heathers: The Musical” from Feb. 16 – 18. The over two-hour long musical came together in just two and a half months. 

“We put a lot of hard work into this production, and we’re just very excited that people were able to see what we’ve done on stage,” said senior Jada Pineda, who played Heather Macnamara.

“Heathers,” based on the 1989 movie of the same name, is a dark comedy full of high-energy songs. The story focuses on 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer, who stumbles her way into the most powerful clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers, made up of Heather Chandler, Heather Duke and Heather Macnamara. While Veronica grapples with the implications of her newfound popularity, her life takes a dangerous turn as she falls for mysterious newcomer JD, played by senior Milan Mohammed. 

Though “Heathers” takes place in a high school setting, the musical deals with heavy themes like suicide, sexual assault, violence and bullying. In the original version of the show, strong language and mentions of alcohol and drugs are frequent. The cast of “Heathers” faced the unique challenge of adapting the musical to Dougherty Valley’s audience while still capturing the essence of the original show.

According to ensemble member Dhwani Adishesh, the cast focused on their articulation and expressiveness to accomplish this. “We [weren’t able] to say inappropriate words because we didn’t want to go down that route,” Adishesh said. “But using our facials, [using] the words that we had, using our volume and our pronunciation and being very clear was really important to us.” 

For viewers of the show, it was clear that a great deal of consideration went into the line delivery for each character. Despite the heavy subject matter, perfectly-timed quips and comedic moments were peppered throughout the show, helping create the perfect balance. 

“One thing that we did was pulling out our own ideas,” Adishesh said. “Especially with some of the leads, the delivery of jokes was a little bit different, like going slower with the pacing [and building up] the anticipation.”

The cast of “Heathers” faced the unique challenge of adapting the musical to Dougherty Valley’s audience while still capturing the essence of the original show.

This could be particularly seen in senior Adelene Pereyra’s performance as Veronica. She captivated viewers from the moment she appeared on stage and left the audience palpably holding their breath during “Dead Girl Walking.” Not only did she command the stage with her voice, she effortlessly captured Veronica’s clever, caustically funny nature. 

Junior Vikram Potluri and freshman Akash Bardalai, who played Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly respectively, provided much of the comedic relief to the show. They easily slipped into the role of Westerburg High’s resident jocks, drawing laughter from the audience. The first time they got to take center stage was during the slow-motion fight scene with JD — one of the most entertaining moments of the musical. From the accents they donned to their swagger and body language, they quite literally threw themselves into character.

To start Act Two with a bang, seniors Ziad Odeh and Rishi Ramesh, who played Kurt and Ram’s fathers, preached universal love and acceptance with “My Dead Gay Son.” The lively, vibrant number quickly became a fan-favorite. Other songs that received full audience enthusiasm included the enigmatic opening number “Beautiful” and the boisterous, party-infused “Big Fun.” 

A part of the charm these songs held for their audience was the dynamic and engaging choreography. Usually, students would adhere to the choreography in previous performances of the musical. However, the choreography for Dougerty Valley’s production was unique because it was created by seniors Mia Verlatti and Lana Tayag, who was also part of the ensemble. 

“[Mia and I] both did dance lessons for about six or seven years before we did this production, so we used our past experiences along with YouTube videos,” Tayag said.

Tayag and Verlatti choreographed the dances for most of the biggest songs from scratch, and spent a long time choreographing, coordinating and teaching the steps to the cast.

“It would take us two weeks to construct a choreography for one number,” Tayag recounted. “Especially because we had to teach every single person the dance moves and mesh it with the song and the vocals at the same time. So it took a lot of practice trying to get everyone to be in sync and perform the way we did today.”

Because of the many different details that needed to be considered for each number, Tayag explained that the choreography was only finalized about two weeks before opening night of “Heathers.” But despite the challenges they faced, Verlatti and Tayag’s creative efforts truly paid off to add to the musical’s unforgettable experience.

Another group that helped pull the show together was the “Heathers” ensemble. Despite the prominence of the multiple main characters, the members of the ensemble repeatedly drew the attention of the audience. They were moving and thrumming at times to match the energy of the song, and at other times the actors were frozen to direct attention to the action going on. They filled in the gaps and served as the backbone of the musical, acting as both one entity that moved together as well as individuals each with unique, shining personalities.

Sophomore Maya Oyedele (who played Ms. Fleming) explained that although most of the ensemble didn’t have lines or singing parts, they still made sure to craft a persona and adhere to it onstage. 

“One thing that helped us make [the show] unique was that all the ensemble characters that didn’t necessarily have a name created a character for themselves. And you can see those elements throughout the show. [For example] if one of them wanted their character to be a mean girl or something like that, then you can see that in the way that they respond during [each scene],” Oyedele said.

The ensemble’s attention to detail was consistent through the duration of the show. Each cast member constantly had the energy turned all the way up, whether or not the spotlight was on them. 

“We definitely put ourselves in our characters. We [tried to] make our show very, very fun for us so that it isn’t boring for the audience,” Pineda said about the cast’s emphasis on expressing themselves through their characters. By combining their own personalities with their characters and creating their own unique reactions, the ensemble gave a distinctive flair to this production of “Heathers.”

Since the cast had so much creative freedom in the interpretation of their roles, they came together to tailor the overall message of “Heathers” to Dougherty Valley’s high school audience. 

“[The musical is set around] a bunch of kids who are all trying to navigate high school, but they’re all different,” sophomore and ensemble member Devi Govindarao said. “A big message is that we can just be 17. Yes, we’re all growing up, but we can remember that we’re kids for just one more day, and we can be free.”