It’s not particularly surprising what the team behind Heathers: The Musical decided to keep in: You’ve got your “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” your “Lick it up, baby, lick it up” — even that bit about loving your dead gay son. But with every adaptation, there are going to be various tweaks. We spoke with director Andy Fickman about the changes he made to this cult classic.
1. Unlike in the film, Veronica is not popular at the start of the musical. She runs into the Heathers in the bathroom and after impressing them with her forging skills, gets them to agree to let her sit with them at lunch.
Fickman: “The movie opens with Veronica already a part of the Heathers, but it felt like it begged the question, ‘How did that girl who doesn’t seem to fit in with the other three get to that position to begin with?’ She seems smart, she’s articulate, she’s got relationships with other people in school. With the opening [musical] number, we see the bullying nature and the terrorizing nature of the high school, and why somebody like her might have fallen in with them.”
2. Betty Finn, Veronica’s childhood BFF whom she ditches for the Heathers, doesn’t exist.
Fickman: “Martha in the film is almost a visual character. She has very little to say or do, and yet she becomes the victim of bullying in a significant manner. And Betty as a character is part of the normal crowd who has a backstory with Veronica, but not much that goes to the very end. When we were looking to the nature of how many characters can you have onstage, which character is going to provide the most amount of impact, through lots of discussions with [book, music, and lyrics authors] Kevin [Murphy] and Larry [O’Keefe], it was decided, ‘Well what if we combined Martha and Betty and made Martha a more significant character?’
3. J.D. makes his first impression by getting into a fistfight with Kurt and Ram; he doesn’t shoot at them with blanks.
Fickman: “One is able to do that hard, hard, hard cut in the film where you’re able to pull out the gun, you do the quick pop-pop and then you cut-to and everyone’s talking about what happened. Onstage, knowing what was going to happen later at the end of Act One, it was more impactful to present the guns then. And with the fistfight, we knew we could just have a lot of fun. It — pardon the pun — kills every night, with the slow-motion fighting and the head-butting.”
4. J.D. and Veronica don’t play strip croquet.
Fickman: We knew that we were going to do such a big naked strip moment in the middle of the song ‘Dead Girl Walking.’ We knew the audience would not be disappointed with what they saw. [Editor’s note: Yes, they have sex, and Veronica makes a new-to-Heathers-fans disclosure — J.D. was her first.]
5. We see and hear characters from the afterlife.
Fickman: “[Heathers writer] Daniel Waters always says the hardest part of his movie was you killed off the three great comedic figures. And so the first half had all this comedy and the second half was decidedly darker, but mainly because you have three funny, annoying characters you couldn’t do anymore. And in theater, there’s the opportunity for a Greek chorus. Early on, it was one of the first creative decisions that we all made. And the minute Dan saw that, he could not have been happier, because I think he realized, ‘Oh, you found a way to keep some of my favorite characters in the show all the way up to the very end.’ Also, in dealing with the black comedy and death, there’s something nice when the audience can see that character come back out onstage and there’s still comedy being generated. That I think helps [provide] a spoonful of sugar.”
6. The fathers of Kurt and Ram actually hooked up several years ago, and they make out at their sons’ funeral (while singing a song called, “I Love My Dead Gay Son”).
Fickman: “I don’t think that anything went quicker. When we said that we were going to do this, everybody’s first question was, ‘There’s definitely going to be a ‘Dead Gay Son’ song, right?’ So that was one of the first songs that we knew we were going to be dealing with, and then it became a question of what that meant. There was something really great about sins of our father-type attitude that if Kurt and Ram were raised a certain way, they were bullies, their dads were probably the exact same people in high school. I think that it came to, ‘God, I think we can get the audience cheering in this moment’ in support. A good villain like J.D. is somebody in any movie or play or book whose rational way of thinking isn’t completely insane. He needed to show Veronica that the success of the deaths would lead to something greater. And unexpected even by J.D.’s standards was the unleashing of this passion between these two fathers. It has been one of our spoiler moments, but one that we fully admitted would not stay hidden long.”
7. In front of the entire student body, Veronica confesses to killing Heather Chandler, Kurt, and Ram. No one believes her.
Fickman: “[Heather] Duke has the line that people will do anything and say anything to become popular. It’s the same way that Martha’s a non-cool person who’s trying to emulate the cool kids by committing suicide but she fails at it. Here’s Veronica trying to indicate that she’s much bitchier and much cooler and she’s killed people, but she’s failing at it as well.”
8. Heather Chandler wears a big red bow in the musical instead of a scrunchie, although the iconic imagery of her scrunchie remains intact after she dies.
Fickman: “With costume designer Amy Clark, the goal was to try to give everything an enhancement of what was [originally] there. It’s like a combo of a scrunchie and a bow that sort of gives the look. It was just to make sure everything read properly so you could see it from the back of the house.”