Starting Friday, July 28, the Small Town Stars Theatre Company is hosting a high school musical that is about as far away from the Disney brand as possible, as they bring "Heathers: The Musical" to the Carroll Arts Center.
The show is based on the 1988 film "Heathers" that starred Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, and follows the original's tale of social climbing, bullying, murder and teen suicides while adding new songs and a touch of lightness to the film's black humor.
The film is famously R rated, and the Small Town production recaptures much of the original's raunchiness, gentle chainsaws and all. Nothing is safe from being transformed into a musical number, from sex scenes to suicide notes to group efforts at bullying.
It's this commitment to the non-family-friendly aspects of many teenagers' high school experiences that makes the show controversial, as well as draws young performers to it.
Director Miranda Secula said nearly every theatrically inclined teenager she's met has been drawn to the show, but most don't have the opportunity to perform it in its original form. Because of the popularity of "Heathers: The Musical," a high school version of the production has been created that downplays a lot of the original's sex and violence, but Secula said the tamer version loses some of what makes "Heathers" "Heathers."
"It's a very angsty teen musical, and the fact that teenagers can't do it just doesn't seem right," Secula said. "The thing I love about it is it starts out as a traditional '80s movie like 'The Breakfast Club' or 'Pretty in Pink,' then it goes very dark very fast."
Secula said the show has a lot to offer those currently going through high school as they navigate friendships, peer pressure and aspects of bullying.
"This story is mainly important because of the bullying aspect," Secula said. "It's about how do you deal with bullies, and in this particular show they go to the extreme. What I love about it, though, is it's about how to make peace with your current situation. So many other stories are about trying to change your situation which isn't always possible."
Curtis Lee, of Westminster, plays J.D., the character who inflicts much of the violence in the show. He said the film and musical have long been among his favorites, and he was drawn to the exaggerated relatability of the characters.
"I like to call it all the teen angst you think about inside your head when you're going through high school, only J.D. actually does it," Lee said. "It's very real and very true to what high school is today."
This is the second show for the Small Town company, after last year's production of "Grease." Secula, an incoming junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, started the theater company herself, after she realized there weren't many directing opportunities for those still in college.
The cast is made up of a blend of high schoolers and young adults, with actors ranging in age from 16 to 24, Secula said. In order to participate in the show, the younger actors had to have permission slips signed by their parents.
Olivia Ruth, of Frederick, said her parents initially didn't want her to participate, but eventually came around. This is Ruth's second show with Small Town, after performing in "Grease" last year. She said she's known Secula since high school and, when she found out her friend was starting her own theater company, she knew she had to audition.
"It's been an interesting experience to work with someone my own age," Ruth said. "I feel comfortable asking her questions and getting suggestions. It's really cool to have a director you can talk to without being scared of them."
Abbie Weinel, of Mount Airy, who plays the lead role of Veronica Sawyer, said she discovered the theater group through an advertisement on Facebook. She said she's proud to be a part of something as important as "Heathers" while still remaining fun and entertaining.
"It's kind of exhilarating," Weinel said. "These are things that high schoolers do; it's not a new issue. To be able to present that to my peers in a way they understand is pretty cool."
If you go
What: Small Town Stars Theatre Company's production of "Heathers: The Musical"
When: 7 p.m. Friday, July 28 and Saturday, July 29; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 30
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 West Main St., Westminster
Cost: $15 for adults, $13 for students in advance; $18 for adults, $15 for students at the door
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For tickets and more information: Visit www.smalltownstarstheatre.com.