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Teen cast & crew stoked for 'Heathers' musical at ATC

A cast and crew of local students is brewing up two evenings full of snarky dialogue and riveting plot lines set for Friday and Saturday, when "Heathers the Musical: Teen Edition" hits the Arizona Theatre Company stage.

"Heathers the Musical: Teen Edition," based on the 1989 movie, tells the story of Veronica Sawyer, a beautiful, intelligent misfit who is working her way into the most powerful and cruel clique at Westerburg High: the Heathers, three mean girls— you guessed it—all named Heather. Just as she is trying to create a place for herself, a new kid — J.D. — enters the scene and steals Veronica's heart. From there things take a very dark turn. The musical is filled with catchy songs such as "Meant to be Yours" and "Candy Store," and will please anyone who appreciates a twisted sense of humor.

"As we were designing the program, we wanted to pick something that would attract the kids," director Chris Moseley said. "It’s important for the kids to have a moment to discuss about some of the topics, like gun control and sexual assault."

ATC's Summer on Stage program features Tucson teenagers as both cast and crew, with six weeks of summer rehearsal culminating in a weekend production.

The production is a high school version written by the musical's original authors and some songs were changed to make it suitable for 13-18 year-olds, Moseley said. For example, the song "You're Welcome" was replaced by a song called "Blue." However, they've kept most of the language used in the original.

Among the 20 young actors who will be taking the stage are Juju Napier, 16, and Kiera Kuehnle, 15, playing the roles of J.D. and Heather Chandler.

"In school, we don't really talk about sex, we don't talk about consent," Napier said. Kuehnle said that she also felt that schools try to censor topics like the ones discussed in "Heathers." But they both feel they can have those conversations at the theatre.

"My favorite part (of Summer on Stage) is the cast," Kuehnle said. "This was the best cast I've ever worked with. We have fun - maybe too much fun sometimes - but we get the job done. They're a great group of people."

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The annual summer program, put on by ATC for about 20 years, provides local teens with opportunities to pursue a "performance track" (including voice and acting classes) or a "technical theatre track" (learning about sound, lighting, costume and production design). The stage crew for "Heathers" will include four Summer on Stage students.

Napier, who recently underwent surgery that took him out of the program for a week, said he felt understood and supported during his recovery process from surgery, and everyone helped him get back on track when he returned.

They both said they're looking forward to performing and expressed appreciation for their castmates and adult mentors.

"There's a 50/50 relationship between the adults and the actors and tech kids," Napier said. "Everyone is so understanding. It's the best theater I've done in my acting experience."

The pandemic affected ATC, and theatre staffers were struggling to get kids to take part in the program. However, they're looking forward to resuming lessons at the theatre and doing more productions after Summer on Stage.

"I've spent 15 years teaching, and when COVID hit, we lost our theater," Moseley said. "It's so exciting to get kids back together and seeing them learn to express themselves and take new risks. We got a great group of kids. They've become fast friends. I've never seen a group of kids so excited to work with each other."

Bianca Morales is TucsonSentinel.com’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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What, where & when

  • Heathers the Musical: Teen Edition
  • July 22 - July 23, 7:30p.m
  • Tucson Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott St.
  • Tickets: $15