Part of it was our beautiful new theatre, the Marcelle, designed by the hardest working man in local showbiz, Rob Lippert, and only possible because of the endless generosity of Ken and Nancy Kranzberg. I think we'll get some serious rave reviews for this show, but there will also be raves for the theatre. It really is beautiful, and because Rob is a lifelong theatre animal, it's so intelligently designed, both for us and for the audience.
A big part of tonight's thrill is this extraordinary Heathers script and score by Larry O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy. It's big and goofy, dark as hell, profoundly moving, and piercingly truthful. And the score is nothing less than powerful, and deceptively complex – entirely in the musical language of 1980s Top 40, and yet built with a sophistication few musical theatre scores can match, using multiple leitmotifs, lots of cinematic underscoring, and a hundred clever ways of building and sustaining tension through the music.
And as an added bonus, so much of the music is really funny. Which is rare. O'Keefe's Bat Boy score was the same. Most composers can't write music that's funny itself, but Larry really can.
(They also played opposite each other as Roger and Mimi in New Line's Rent.)
You don't often come across a show with five female leads, all of whom have to be amazing singers and actors and comedians, but Heathers is such a show, and our five women are fucking fierce. I've never before seen an audience cry twice within the span of a few minutes, but Larissa's "Lifeboat" and Grace's "Kindergarten Boyfriend" both just shattered the audience.
It feels great to make an audience laugh, but making an audience cry is real power.
An old lesson was driven home again for me tonight. When you try to be funny, it's less funny. When you try to be truthful, it's way funnier. I thought the off Broadway production of Heathers was very good, but I felt it too often trying to be funny. Heathers isn't really a comedy, at least not on stage, where the interior monologues give the story so much extra weight. It's a thriller.
Just summarize the story in one sentence – Two misfit kids start murdering the popular kids in school – not that funny.
The reason the audience was crying during "Lifeboat" and "Kindergarten Boyfriend" is because they were emotionally engaged with these characters. They understood and cared about Martha and Mac. If those characters are cartoons or caricatures, the audience won't care. But if we successfully navigate that tightrope, we make something palpably real. Though you might not realize it, this is a show that requires strong, skilled, honest acting.
Funny is good, but truthful is better. And funnier.
Our cast has plumbed the depths of these characters, they've formed a Westerberg community, with shared backstory, and they all found their path to Fearlessness. There is nothing safe about this show or our production. It's harrowing. It's overwhelming. It's fierce. It's fearless. Because that's the story we're telling.
"Civilians" often ask me "Where do you find such talented actors and musicians?" The answer is that we pay shitty, but where else would any of us get to do Jerry Springer the Opera, Bukowsical, High Fidelity, Love Kills, Cry-Baby, bare...? The reason we get all these talented and skillful artists to work with us is the work itself.
Tonight at the after-party in the gorgeous Marcelle lobby, so many of our actors and musicians hugged me and thanked me for this opportunity and this experience. I think every one of us feels profoundly lucky to be doing this show. It's so much richer and smarter than any of us first thought. Beneath its loud, rowdy, vulgar surface, Heathers is surprisingly subtle in ways that most in our audience won't even consciously recognize.
I don't bring Heathers to life. They do. Musical theatre is the most collaborative of all art forms, and so the art is only as good as the collaboration.
I think I got more hugs tonight at the party than I've ever gotten before in a single day. It was great. From what I can tell, the reviews are going to be raves. And all of us are beyond psyched to run this beautiful show for the next four weeks.
What a great fucking night.
Thank you, St. Louis, for the best opening night audience we could've hoped for, and I suspect, many more awesome audiences to come. Word-of-mouth is going to be really good. Thank you, Ken and Nancy, for our beautiful new home. And thank you, New Liners, for climbing another mountain with me. Isn't this fucking FUN?
If you haven't gotten your tickets yet, you'd better do it fast. We're already selling out performances. Metrotix, 314-534-1111.
The adventure continues...
Long Live the Musical!