Out of the Wings Theatre
Vermont Secondary College
19 to 22 January
I had the greatest honour attending Out Of The Wings’ production of Heathers out in Vermont last night. Every once in a while, a show comes along that reminds those who are questioning their future in our beloved amateur theatre circuit why they joined the community in the first place, striking the core of our souls and reigniting the fire and love we have for our craft. Out Of The Wings’ latest production managed to achieve this feat with flying colours and even though their mission statement is to bridge the gap between youth and adult theatre, it did so much more than that with a heavily diverse, non-discriminatory cast who didn’t let gender barriers, racial prejudices or sexual preferences dissuade them from taking on roles that they know deep down were meant for them. Heathers evidently was the perfect choice of musical to demonstrate what they stand for as it tackles issues such as bullying, suicide and the price of achieving social status at any cost and they convey the message so loud and clear that it encourages many young performers and creators to follow in their footsteps and pave the way for a brighter future in theatre.
First and foremost, my hat goes off to the amazing production team, who took a giant leap of faith to take multiple steps in the right direction, looking past the typical norms that have been etched into our minds throughout our time here on earth to deliver an inclusive and innovative adaptation of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s theatrical cult classic camp fest. As director, Zachary Dixon utilised his Federation University Bachelor Of Arts training to guide the way for his youthful cast to explore their troubled characters, bring out the best of their performance abilities and show the world their worth and what they’re made of. For the younger cast, he got them to dig deep into both their insecurities and self-worth in order to tell a remarkable story of how it hurts to be not only an adolescent but a human being and for the older cast, he got them to reminisce on the pros and cons of their high school days, reminding them what it was like to be in their characters’ shoes in order to achieve authenticity. Dixon ventured into taking multiple mature risks in the production and trusted everyone he worked with as equals to set the semi-satirical scene of the American high school, resulting in a directorial effort that was both adult and avant-garde. Daniel Kim gave the audience an aural sensation as vocal director as he was able to form the vocals of each individual onstage to suit their respective characters no matter how challenging the task may have been. Passing on a live band in favour of backing tracks, Kim still managed to lift and mold each voice to the point where they were heard in all of it’s glory, bringing the lower voices to new heights, keeping the higher voices comfortable and overall, each vocalist was well supported and strengthened thanks to his virtuosity in the music department. Jennifer Roussos may have only recently entered adulthood but her work as choreographer in this production will have you thinking otherwise, as her abilities are so highly regarded that she is quickly garnering a reputation of being one of the greatest up and coming dancers in her age group. Fresh from a turn as dance captain in SLAMS’ Rock Of Ages, Roussos essentially established that her elevating and ever evolving dance skills were a perfect match for the cast of Heathers, knowing when to keep her choreography simple and when to go full on into active, athletic and action filled routines to find a perfectly balanced dance display that could easily be followed by the cast and could get the audience out of their seats, grooving along.
If you follow my reviews, you may notice that I may highlight a certain cast member as the king or queen of each production. However, with a youthful cast as devoted and dedicated to their art such as the one involved in Out Of The Wings’ Heathers, I believe that everyone in this cast, lead, featured or ensemble, has the right to be given that title in this show and all for different reasons. To start with, we have Elizabeth Pardallis and Jordan Ratumu and their history making gender-bent performances of JD and Heather Duke respectively that sent a message to young performers everywhere around our circuit that everyone had the chance to play exactly who they want to play without gender getting in the way. Both Pardallis and Ratumu made their roles their own whether they were portraying a psychopath yearning to make the student body pay for their injustices to misfits all throughout the globe or an oppressed, popular school kid who’s turned into a monster to keep the facade of social status up in the wake of tragedy and their strengths as versatile, young performers to take on such challenging roles for any gender was an inspiration and nothing short of cordial and courageous as they shed their vulnerability to set the standard for how their characters ought to be performed. Lauren Ridler as Heather MacNamara and Chaliah Hilton-Cronin as Martha Dunstock both gave raw and real performances that painfully remind us all how it hurts to be human on both sides of social hierarchy, one with the pressure of keeping up appearances in pop life and another being so mistreated by her peers that she just wants some recognition as an equal and not lesser to her high and mighty classmates. Ridler and Hilton-Cronin painted the most honest picture in their portrayals of how damaging to one’s self-esteem and worth it can be when chasing popularity in the shadows of queen bees and wannabes. Spencer Stiles and Dean Di Fazio demonstrated a different perspective of social status in their portrayals of varsity jocks Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, as their characters highly resembled the high school bullies and douchebags that we knew all too well in our school days. Playing characters that audiences love to hate can be a risky move for any performer as it can, at times, lower one’s confidence or go to their head for the worst while boosting their ego, but both Stiles and Di Fazio stayed grand and grounded in their portrayals, ensuring that even the most despised of characters are not simply one dimensional and have many layers of flaws underneath their flawless reputations and footballers physiques, stripped down (literally) to get their message across.
Two of the biggest standouts among the featured roles were Tom Arcaro and Nam Hoang and their portrayals of Ram’s father and Kurt’s father respectively. Their characterisations shined a light on how the influence of parents can make or break their child’s personality in the long run, showcasing what toxic masculinity can do to today’s youth and that when you look closer, the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree after all. After their onstage son’s were killed off at the end of act one, Arcaro and Hoang’s risqué redemption was the stuff of legend as they had a full on showdown with the ideas of gender stereotypes in a “man’s” world and beat them to a bloody pulp, sharing the love for young men who are willing to take a stand by demonstrating how true a real man is, cementing it with an iconic same sex kiss to achieve performances that were electric, ecstatic and on some occasions, erotic. Speaking of adult characters, while Arcaro and Hoang were highlighting how parents can change the course of a child’s life, Jordyn Hogg was placing a spotlight on how teachers can do the same and her portrayal of a misguided educator who abused her powers and risked the safety of her students to achieve not only academic recognition but also fifteen minutes of fame did that super effectively. Hogg’s character is one that may fall under the radar among the major leads but you’ll discover that like Kurt and Ram, Ms. Fleming is someone we love to despise for her almost criminal acts of wreckless endangerment but still, Hogg also made sure that her character too did not remain one dimensional and when Ms. Fleming sees the light along with the rest of the school at the end of show, her guidance to redemption is made all the more poetic, proud and purposeful. Over my decade long theatrical journey, there have been very few people whose talents have blown me away from day one before reaching the age od eighteen and two of them were literally slaying in Heathers last night. Samira Reason and Hope Zorbas whose portrayals of Veronica Sawyer and Heather Chandler respectively reintroduced them to our community in a way like you’ve never seen them before and despite their characters in Heathers being total opposites to their starmaking performances of Dragon and Fiona in two separate productions of Shrek, both ladies continued to prove their way beyond their years talents, all the while demonstrating what strong, independent young actresses they have grown and developed into. Reason continued showcasing her signature soulful pipes while giving her most revered performance to date, blazing like a comet through her dance routines and acting like her own life depended on it, which is what one needs to play Veronica convincingly and her empowering and enraptured portrayal let our community know that she’s not a kid anymore but a woman who can take the theatre world by storm at every turn. Zorbas, meanwhile, transformed herself by ditching her dainty Disney princess poise in favour of turning into the ultimate mean girl who likes a bit of poison in her cup and makes it her mission to destroy anyone who gets in her way of staying on top of the social ladder, even after her untimely demise. With remnants of other classic mean girl characters like Regina George, Carla Santini, Madison Morgan and Kathryn Merteuil intertwined in her characterisation of Heather Chandler, she assured the crowd that any trace of her previous princess role was dead and buried and created her new rich bitch role to be her bitch, resulting in a mean girl performance for the ages that raised the bar for various actresses of any age and it was slick, sneaky, sinister and seductive to boot.
With their production of Heathers, Out Of The Wings has accomplished what many other companies with more decades worth of experience are still struggling to achieve, an accepting space for everyone with not a trace of judgement or favouritism in sight and a place where these young performers can be unapologetically themselves while incorporating their heart and souls into their theatrical duties. It was without a doubt one of the most groundbreaking and trailblazing amateur productions of recent memory, where everyone had a dream, a go, a brand new lease on the theatre world and an opportunity to let their freak flags fly in the most beautiful method possible. I believe that Out Of The Wings can easily get a special achievement award among many others for their efforts and if they don’t, I will make one for them myself and I can safely say in advance that I am greatly anticipating what this company, that has so much to offer young performers, will turn into magic the next time around. Special shoutout to Samira Reason and Hope Zorbas for their performances in the show, to Daniel Kim and Jennifer Roussos for their spectacular efforts on the prod team and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with Heathers who reigned supreme and sparkled like glitter and sequins for the community to see the stars. Congratulations on such a successful run, you are all our future, the world is your oyster, thank you for reminding us why we love theatre so much and why it is simply the best.
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