Director Andy Fickman: Heathers The Musical Interview


When the dark comedy Heathersfirst debuted in 1989, no one could have expected that the teen angst with a body count could become a compelling (and even heartwarming) musical. But with the talents of Kevin Murphy (who was head writer for Desperate Housewives) and Laurence O’Keefe (who wrote the songs for Legally Blonde), Heathers: The Musical became as much a cult classic as its predecessor—and managed to mix plenty of genuine affection into its sardonic tone.

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Andy Fickman was in charge of directing the stage productions of Heathers: The Musical in Los Angeles, New York, and London, and has helped it grow with each new cast and location. Between swapping out songs and adding in depths, the stage production is a living creature that can only be momentarily captured on film before it sprouts wings and flies away. Capturing the moment is exactly what The Roku Channel intends to do, as it partnered with Village Roadshow to bring audiences everywhere a video recording of the production in its current form. The musical is free to stream beginning September 16.

Screen Rant spoke to director Andy Fickman about how the Heathers musical has evolved over the years, what he hopes younger fans get out of it, and what inspired the incredible ad breaks for Roku’s recorded version.

You’ve been working with Heathers for over a decade at this point. When did the opportunity to make a recorded version for Roku present itself and how was that specific filming approached?

Andy Fickman: We’ve been having such a great time since we really launched in the UK around 2018, and that show has garnered a massive amount of fans. Our partners at Village Roadshow, who have the underlying rights to Heathers the movie, were really great and started talking to us about, “Hey, what if we did a stage capture?”

Roku started really getting involved with original programming; they have that great Weird Al Yankovic movie coming out. The benefit of doing a lot of film and television is that’s a little bit of my day job. When someone says, “Hey, can you put a crew together and go film it?” I’m like, “That, I know how to do so.” We had a new cast coming in, and we were able to get people from our tour and bring in some new names. Kevin [Murphy], Larry [O’Keefe] and I went straight back into the rehearsal process.

A recording is frozen in time for posterity, whereas the show itself is a living thing that’s constantly evolving. Were there any difficult decisions as to what you would include or not in the recording?

Andy Fickman: I would say with Kevin and Larry and I, as a partnership, our goal is that every time we go into rehearsal for a new cast, we are tweaking. And we’re always like, “Let’s try this joke. Let’s try that.” When we started doing this version, we kind of acknowledged that if this is the version, “Let’s cut that. Let’s add that, let’s change that.” As soon as we wrapped the stage capture, we took that script, and then handed it to the new cast that just came in a week ago. We were like, “This is the version. This is what it will be.”

I guarantee that at some point, we will be back in rehearsals somewhere for another tour, and we’ll be like, “What if we tried this?” It’s always evolving a little bit.

Speaking of evolutions, this was actually the first time I saw “You’re Welcome” performed, as I had previously only seen “Blue.” I loved what Kevin and Laurence said about exploring rape culture more seriously in that song, and I was wondering about your take on it from a directorial perspective. How does your work shift in a number like that?

Andy Fickman: “Blue” was a crowd favorite. It was a catchy song. John [Eidson] and Evan [Todd], who were Kurt and Ram in LA and New York, found a great rhythm with it. But we felt that it wasn’t moving the story correctly, because there is a serious element to it. There was a serious element regarding date rape, the culture surrounding that, and where Veronica lived in that world.

When we got to London, the very first thing Kevin and Larry wanted to do was try “You’re Welcome.” We were in workshop and everyone was shocked. People were like, “Wait, what? You’re not doing Blue?” And we’re like, “No, we think we’re gonna make it better.” It was hard because all genders were excited for “Blue,” just because they liked the song. But once we started saying, “Give us a chance,” it really stuck and people started looking at it from a different place.

From a directorial standpoint, you always want to elevate the material. I can give you a thousand reasons why we didn’t have an 11 o’clock hour number for Veronica, but none of them are good. And then “I Say No” was born, which is probably one of my favorite songs in the show. We didn’t have a [Heather] Duke number before—in fact, when Alice [Lee, who played Duke in LA] came to see the show, I was like, “You’re gonna be so upset. Duke has a killer song now.” Alice was like, “How is this possible? It’s such a great song!” You’re always trying to elevate your material if you’re given an opportunity to continue to grow and workshop. As storytellers, that’s exactly what we wanted to do.

I was actually gonna ask you about “Never Shut Up Again,” because I love getting to dive further into the psychology of Duke. What was it like to help craft her evolution as well as McNamara’s as the show progresses?

Andy Fickman: I have the benefit of the director, where I get to hear the authors’ demos. You hear Kevin and Larry singing every female voice, and in the middle, they’re like, “Then we’ll rip her clothes, and we’ll do this reveal.” And immediately, all I’m thinking is, “How do I do that? Okay, that sounds cool. How do I not mess that up?”

The first time we got into rehearsal—we had the wonderful T’Shan Williams in that production—we thought the song was so strong, because here was Heather #2 who finally was not going to shut up anymore. She didn’t have to shut up! In some way, it was this liberating number of someone finding their voice. But at the same time, they’re finding their voice, and they’re not a great person. If you kill that one general, you’re fearful there’ll be a worse general that will rise up.

It was a brilliant song, and an amazing opportunity for staging and for a character moment. I’m so glad we have it now, because it does feel we’re more balanced because of it.

I love how it represents the paths that you can take, too. There’s the Veronica path, or going further down Heather’s path.

Andy Fickman: That is 100% what we always say, anytime we’re talking to fans or to cast over the years. When people watch the show, everyone always says they were Veronica or Martha. No one ever wants to claim that they were really Heather Chandler, but we feel that deep down inside, someone’s like, “I’m fearful I might have been a Duke or a Chandler.”

As an aside, I really love the colored pencil art for the commercial breaks. What was the inspiration behind them?

Andy Fickman: Thank you. We were putting it together in editorial, and we found out we needed to do ad breaks. We were like, “Oh, okay….”

When I do television, I know my ad breaks, because it’s written into my script. When I do features and a network buys it, they’re going to put their own ad break in, and I don’t want to see it. But here, I want the audience to be a part of it. I called Kevin and Larry, and we started talking about what would feel right. I’m a child of the 80s and MTV, so I wanted it to have an MTV sort of feel, like the A-ha video. Everyone got behind that, and Village Roadshow and Roku were so supportive. I’m glad you appreciated it.

Since Heathers the film came out, it feels like our reality has become much closer to it. It’s less of a parody and more of a reflection of our time. What do you hope that fans take away from the musical’s interpretation of that story, and how does it play in this climate?

Andy Fickman: One of the hardest things to deal with is gun culture and violence in high school; even bombs in high school. This is not 80s fantasy; this is our daily reality. I think our desire is not to push it away, but to embrace it and to spin it with our own level of hope. It’s that sense that anybody can make a difference. There is redemption, but it takes the individual. You can be Veronica, but you have to be the person standing up.

What we started finding is that so many young people watching would say, “I get that onstage the drama is someone wrote a mean practical joke to Martha inviting her to the party, so everyone can make fun. But we deal with that online, and it’s forever online.” We’ve had so many beautiful moments, whether in person or email or letters, of kids telling us how close to reality this was for them. How bullying had gotten out of control, or how they dealt with it, and how the show framed it in a manner that gave them some sunshine. There is a better tomorrow, and there’s a chance for a new sheriff in town.

Last but not least, I cannot wait for Phillipa Soo to light up my life in One True Loves.

Andy Fickman: I will say that Phillipa Soo, Simu Liu, and Luke Bracey just are amazing. That cast is dreamy. And Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote the screenplay with her husband Alex. Sometimes you do a book transfer and somebody else comes in, but here you have the novelist herself writing those words.

I’m in the process of finishing. I was back and forth in editorial while I was making Heathers, so some days I’d be in this rich romance. And then I’d be back to Heathers. [Laughs]

About Heathers: The Musical

Welcome to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another one of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD shows up – the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that everyone fears being a nobody, but its murder being a somebody…

Heathers: The Musical is now available to stream on The Roku Channel.

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