Penn State Thespians Bring Dark Comedy ‘Heathers: The Musical’ to Schwab Stage
October 10, 2019 12:54 PM
by Cassady Potts
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The Penn State Thespians return to the horrors of high school this week in their performance of “Heathers: The Musical” at Schwab Auditorium. 

Based on the 1988 cult-classic film of the same name, the musical follows high schooler Veronica Sawyer as she goes from outcast to a member of the most prestigious clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers.

Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara turn Veronica into one of them, allowing her to climb the social ladder and gain the attention she longingly desires. This includes sitting at the “cool” lunch table, getting drunk at parties, and attracting the attention of cute boys.

Just before Veronica has a chance to be comfortable at the top of the food chain, she defends her best friend and misfit Martha after the Heathers play a cruel prank on her, and falls in love with the suspicious, trench coat-wearing J.D.

Photo by George Liu | Onward State

The dark comedy tackles subjects such as bullying, eating disorders, sexual assault, violence, and the toxic social hierarchy of high school. These are all topics that director Laney Pleasanton sees as relevant in today’s society.

“Even though it’s set in 1989, it’s a timeless story. High school hierarchies have always been present and they always will be present,” Pleasanton said. “There is always going to be the popular versus the not popular.”

When choosing an actor the play the lead role of Veronica, Pleasanton knew that she wanted her to be able to tell a story about the growth and choices made by the dynamic character.

“Throughout the show Veronica goes on a really important journey where she is trying to find out where she fits in…and I think she finds out a lot about herself along the way,” Pleasanton said.

Lauren Bauer, a freshman who was heavily involved in high school theater, makes her college debut as Veronica — the character who experiences a massive transformation throughout the show.

Photo by George Liu | Onward State

“I like how she goes through so many transformations, but she still is herself,” Bauer said. “She still has her confidence and her little bit of quirk that she carries with her, and I really like how that is shown throughout the entire show and never really lost.”

Bauer studied Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Veronica in the film and listened to the musical soundtrack non-stop in order to develop the emotions needed to play the complex character.

“It was hard to master the confidence [Veronica] carries while still being able to be vulnerable and changed by J.D.’s ideas…and be manipulated but still carry that confidence,” Bauer said.

Photo by George Liu | Onward State

This isn’t the first show junior Evan Cuccaro has been involved in at Penn State, but it is the first time he has had the opportunity to play a villain like J.D. and explore sensitive topics like bullying and mental health issues.

“[‘Heathers: The Musical’] has very heavy themes about bullying and also suicide — which is a very serious topic — and 'Heathers' is satirical in its critiques about suicide while keeping it at the forefront and making sure it is portrayed in a responsible manner,” Cuccaro said.

While the musical does explore dark themes, Cuccaro also sees a bigger picture he hopes the audience thinks about when they leave the theatre.

Photo by George Liu | Onward State

“Veronica is the character…who believes there is good in everyone and there is still hope,” Cuccaro says. “Obviously that is counteracted by J.D., but in the end that wins…We have the power to change things and look at the world and stop what harms us.”

Penn State Thespians will perform "Heathers: The Musical" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10 and Friday, Oct. 11, and at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 in Schwab Auditorium. Tickets are $4.98 for students and $12 for community members. They can be purchased with cash in advance at the HUB-Robeson Center or at the door.

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