Disclaimer: Amanda Rose is a former assistant arts editor at The Tufts Daily. Rose was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.
This weekend, Torn Ticket II will tackle “Heathers: The Musical” as one of its spring shows. The student production has come together in just six short weeks, a feat considering how ambitious the show itself is.
“Heathers” was originally based on a 1988 film. The show takes place in a high school during the ’80s, and follows student Veronica’s foray into the world of three popular girls, all of whom are named Heather.
According to senior Amanda Rose, the choreographer for the Torn Ticket II production, “it’s kind of a mix of ’80s pop meets ‘Mean Girls.’”
“Heathers” features plenty of rock songs, which both Rose and music director Josh Kim, a junior, have been working hard on these past few weeks.
“It’s a rock musical. It’s not like your classic Sondheim or something like ‘Hamilton’ with a full orchestra. It’s just a band,” Kim explained.
“It has really iconic choreography,” Rose added, “so about half of the choreography is from the original Broadway production … There’s a fair amount of movement and dancing through the show, which keeps it going at a good pace.”
“Heathers” is, however, a dark comedy, navigating heavier themes related to violence and mental health as Veronica falls in love with a boy in her class named J.D.
First-year Thomas Levy, who plays J.D., said in an interview with the Daily, “It quickly becomes clear that [J.D.] is emotionally unstable and very lonely. He hooks on to Veronica and begins to murder their peers in hopes that he can live a life with Veronica alone, away from the drama of high school.”
“Ultimately, ‘Heathers’ is a high-stakes story about high schoolers trying to figure out what’s important to them and what they want in life,” Levy added.
Rose explained that while the show features darker elements, “we use Veronica as a vehicle to talk about these larger issues. It ends with more of a plea to society in large, but also to be kind to each other and to watch out for each other and to not indulge these darker impulses that we have.”
The directors of the show have been working to make sure that these themes are addressed in the most constructive way possible.
“It’s a very heavy show,” Rose said. “It’s difficult because it’s also a satire, so there’s a lot of power that comes in taking these subjects and using comedy to explore them and unpack them and also empower anyone who’s struggling with any of these issues, or knows someone who is.”
“It’s a little difficult to navigate these topics as a student production because the musical itself seems to and could be interpreted as making light of mental health issues and other serious events,” Kim added. “And we as a student production definitely value the progressive experience of providing not only trigger warnings, but also better content — content that doesn’t downsize these problems. So we’ve had to make a lot of stylistic choices in making sure that these narratives aren’t minimized or made fun of.”
Despite these challenges, though, Rose noted that she was glad the cast has been able to explore such provocative issues. “It’s been a work in progress, but I’m proud of us for tackling it. A lot of times people shy away from shows, like, ‘Oh, that’s too difficult. I can’t handle it.’”
In addition, Rose said that the cast, while larger than most Torn Ticket productions, has been incredible to work with.
“What’s really exciting is that we have sixteen cast members, half of whom are freshmen. It’s so fun. And for a lot of them it’s not only their first student theater show, but it’s their first show at Tufts,” she said.
Levy added, “I am so amazed at the kind of professional work my friends are doing. My cast rocks … It’s so clear that everyone who’s a part of this process is dedicated to putting up a really good show.”
On top of the weighty content, the cast and crew have had limited time and resources to produce this show, meaning they’ve had to work extra hard to get it done. Torn Ticket II usually does one “Major” and one “Minor” production per semester — “Heathers,” however, lies somewhere in the middle.
According to Kim, “It’s a ‘Minor Plus,’ which is like a ‘Minor,’ but a little bit of a larger scale. But what this entails is that we’re basically still putting on a ‘Major,’ musical-wise — it’s a ‘Major’ musical. It still requires that [many] resources, but we’ve been doing it with three fewer weeks overall — three fewer weeks of rehearsals, three fewer weeks of learning the music, of seeing the music in front of us. So this has been — I don’t know what the right word is, almost like an underdog tale — it’s been a struggle, for sure.”
He added, “With that in mind … we’ve put so much work and so much effort into this.”
Rose echoed this sentiment.
“I would definitely say don’t let the content warnings frighten you from not seeing the show. This show is definitely not for everyone — it’s a difficult show to watch at times, but that being said, it’s really really fun, and it’s a balance of being very fun, but also very thought-provoking,” she said.
Torn Ticket II’s “Heathers: The Musical” will be showing in Cohen Auditorium this Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are free and can be purchased at the Campus Center or online at Tufts Tickets.