“Heathers” Is A Demented Comedy Infused With Disturbing Themes

June 14, 2023

Micah Friedman, Isabella Agresta, and Kha’Lea Wainwright as the Heathers. Courtesy of Zach Rosing.  Used with permission.

Typically, I try to attend opening nights of shows, as such coverage can drive (or not) attendance for the remainder of the run. Sometimes, however, depending on my schedule or other circumstances, it’s not possible. Such was the case with Eclipse’s production of “Heathers,” which I finally saw but not until its closing performance Sunday at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre.. I am so pleased I saw it, however, because it was one of the most entertaining shows I have seen this year. I only regret I didn’t see it sooner so that I could have helped spread the word, but apparently Eclipse did not need my help because the run was mostly sold out.

A hybrid of films like “Clueless” and “Mean Girls,” “Heathers,” is a high-energy musical with a driving rock score with book, music, and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy. Based on the Daniel Waters’s 1989 cult film of the same title, the show premiered Off-Broadway in 2014. “Heathers” follows the story of Veronica Sawyer, an attractive teenage misfit who worms her way into the Heathers, the most powerful clique of Westerberg High School.  Before she can establish herself as “popular” like her mean-spirited cohort, however, she develops a crush on a mysterious new kid, proving to be a decision she later regrets. Though wickedly funny, it is a timeless work that deals with dark themes, including bullying, teen violence, and sexual assault, giving it the relevance and popularity with young people that it has maintained so many years after it first premiered.

Founded in 2017, Eclipse is the professional component of Summer Stock Stage and produces contemporary musicals which features performers, many of whom are SSS alumnus, whom I have seen previously over the years. Providing its emerging artists with paid opportunities, the organization produces work that is of the highest caliber with a professional quality that is notably consistent.


Charlie Steiner and Taryn Feuer. Courtesy of Zach Rosing.  Used with permission.

That same professional quality reflected in the Eclipse brand was clearly evident in the sterling performances of the “Heathers” 16-member ensemble, impressively directed by María Amenábar Farias.  All the actor-singer-dancers in the cast turned in convincing performances, but those that stood out included Taryn Feuer as conflicted, yet forceful, Veronica Sawyer; charismatic Charlie Steiner who showed star quality as the enigmatic, sensual J.D. This PACE University drama student is destined for a great career on the stage; Isabella Agresta as the unscrupulous queen bee Heather Chandler; Emily Ristine, SSS co-founder as exploitive guidance counselor Ms. Fleming: and Hayden Elefante, another actor to be reckoned with, who showed comedic flair as jock Kurt Kelly, the dense and clueless captain of the football team.

Turning in show-stopping performances were Kallie Ann Tarkleston as tormented turned despondent Martha “dump truck” Dunnstock, who brought down the house when she sang the touching “Kindergarten Boyfriend” and Jared McElroy and Eric J. Olson as, respectively, Ram’s & Kurt’s dads, in the outrageous “My Gay Dead Son.”

Kallie-Ann-Tarkleson - Courtesy of Use. with permission.

Kallie-Ann-Tarkleson – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used with permission.

Responsible for the show’s exceptional choreography was Sean Blake, and contributing to the superb vocal performances of the cast was music director Jericho Hughes.

Adding to the production’s previously mentioned fine patina were its technical elements that included designer Nick Kilgore’s functional multi-level set; Allison James’s costumes that struck just the right note with her late 80s era designs, particularly those worn by the Heathers; Tim Dick’s effective lighting design; and finally, the impeccable sound design of sought-after Zach Rosing, an established local audio guru.

It bears repeating what I have said previously—no one locally does it better than SSS and Eclipse co-founders Ristine (who also produced “Heathers) and Rachel Riegel when it comes to molding young theatre students into professional performers.  While watching the Tony Awards Sunday night, it occurred to me that I would not be surprised if, one day, an alum thanks the dedicated duo on that stage for their influence on them.

For tickets and information about the remainder of the Eclipse season visit summerstockstage.com.







photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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