'Heathers: The Musical' explodes at SE River Campus

Veronica Sawyer (played by Southeast Missouri State University senior April Bassett), left, sings about her love for Jason "J.D." Dean (played by Southeast senior Tyler Battista), right, as members of the school watch in the background during a dress rehearsal of "Heathers: The Musical" on Oct. 29 at Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast's River Campus.
Jelani Days ~ Southeast Arrow

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the Southeast Arrow.

What happens when the catty attitude of "the plastics" from "Mean Girls" is crossed with a murder mystery?

"Heathers: The Musical" premiered Oct. 30 at Southeast Missouri State University. The theater was transformed into the gymnasium at Westerburg High School and music from the 1980s was the pre-show soundtrack for a stage full of scrunchies, plaid and big hair.

The story follows former "nobody" Veronica Sawyer's journey into fame, and the fallout. The plot thickens when everyone who crosses her is later found dead, starting with Heather Chandler.

The stage of the Rust Flexible Theatre on the River Campus was ripe with slow-motion fight scenes, crude humor and the overwhelming attitude of Heather Duke, Heather McNamara and Heather Chandler. The general angst of being 17 is overshadowed by themes of bullying, suicide and murder.

Veronica Sawyer (played by Southeast Missouri State University senior April Bassett), right, expectantly waits for Heather Duke (played by junior Josslyn Shaw), left, Heather Chandler (played by junior Kat Wissler), second from right, and Heather McNamara (played by sophomore Dani Bahn), second from left, to thank her for helping them avoid being caught by Mrs. Flemming (played by Emy Smith, not pictured) during a dress rehearsal of "Heathers: The Musical" on Oct. 29 at Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast's River Campus.

Tense moments of teenage uncertainty are spliced between spells of raucous laughter as the cast deftly maneuvers between scenes of house parties and high school hierarchy.

The process of turning the Rust Flexible Theatre into a retro high school was not easy or quick. Deck chief Mary Cook described the many tasks required to ensure every person backstage and frontstage is doing their job correctly and efficiently.

"During shows, I bounce around, making sure that everything is going OK," Cook said. "I have to watch for set pieces that break and jump to get them fixed right away."

Each student majoring or minoring in the theater and dance programs on the River Campus is required to wear many hats for the productions.

Southeast junior Patti Meadors was assigned to deck crew for "Heathers: The Musical" for a class called Rehearsal and Production. Students in the course are delegated crew positions in construction, scenery, costumes and deck crew.

Veronica Sawyer (played by Southeast Missouri State University senior April Bassett) writes in a diary about her school troubles such as bullies, teachers and everything in between during a dress rehearsal of "Heathers: The Musical" on Oct. 29 at Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast's River Campus.
Jelani Days ~ Southeast Arrow

Meadors said the deck crew members are in charge of creating the magic for the show backstage.

"I'm on headset, so I hear the backstage assistant stage manager, stage managers, the lighting board, the soundboard, all that happening," Meadors said. "I cue when things happen, like open and close the doors, and scene changes."

The show has been in the works for around three months, according to junior Henry Leith. Casting for the musical concluded in April, and rehearsals began three weeks after the fall semester started.

"A lot of the characters in the show are written to be two dimensional, which is different than other shows where you have to create a three-dimensional person," Leith said.

Leith said his experience as a performing arts major at Southeast will give him a leg up in his professional career because he will be a well-rounded candidate.

"We talk all the time in rehearsals about how professional rehearsals go and what our responsibility is as students, as actors and as artists," Leith said.

Acting major Tyler Battista plays J.D., the main antagonist. Battista spoke about the immense workload of producing a play and praised his peers for their hard work and dedication.

The cast created a group chat to keep up with the workload and make sure each performer was confident and in tune with their character. Battista said everyone has everyone's back for production, something he said is important for a successful show.

The senior said the amount of preparation and practice can be daunting, especially for a lead, but all of that is feasible with peers who are professional and eager to make progress at rehearsals.

"The audience only gets to see a finished product," Battista said. "They don't see all of the work, decisions and directions put into a show before the performance."

"Heathers: The Musical" is based on the cult classic movie written by Daniel Waters. The rock musical will be rolling until Sunday. Tickets may be purchased online at www.rivercampus.org.

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