Actors Emma Rucci and Emma Barakat and Director Emily Dzioba
Actors Emma Rucci and Emma Barakat and Director Emily Dzioba

Director discusses play co-created by Kevin Murphy C’89.

October 2017 – Heathers, the cult movie that captured high school angst in the 1980s and became a musical play, is the main production at Drew University this semester.

Directed by Emily Dzioba C’18, Heathers: The Musical features a large cast and 19 songs in two acts. It opens with an evening show on Oct. 17 and closes with a matinee and evening show on Oct. 21. The production also will bring co-creator Kevin Murphy C’89 back to campus on the 20th to speak to students and see the production. Tickets are available here.

Murphy, who created the musical with Laurence O’Keefe, is famous as a writer and co-executive producer on Desperate Housewives and has helped Dzioba shape her vision of the play, in which a dark hero turns the tables on the most popular students at a midwest high school. Here’s what Dzioba said about the process.

What’s the biggest challenge in staging this musical?

How big everything is! I’m working with a cast of more than 20 folks, which is extremely large by Drew’s standards. Doing a musical also calls for a music director and choreographer, two roles that I—and perhaps other actors in our program—personally haven’t worked with since leaving high school drama programs. There are a lot of technical elements, props and special effects that we are using that haven’t been a part of our productions here before. With so many moving pieces, it’s a lot to juggle!

How much contact have you had with Kevin Murphy? 

We’ve exchanged numerous emails regarding the text, and we had one phone conversation at the beginning of the process. Right before he called me, I remember the realization of, “Wow, you’re about to have a phone call with an Emmy award-winning writer, he’s verified on Twitter and everything!” I still don’t think it’s hit me that I’m working in conjunction with writers who are so well-respected and so known in the entertainment community.

Guided by a successful alumnus.

What did you address during the call?

We discussed a few aspects of the play, but one thing that Kevin said stuck with me in particular. He mentioned how he believed theatre has a power that television and movies don’t. It has an immediate quality to it, one that prevents us from being passive participants. A good piece of theatre forces us to confront the same hopes, dreams, fears and realities that exist onstage, but also in our own lives. With that in mind, I’m hoping that our production brings that active energy and makes people think about their own identities and how their actions impact others.

How would you describe the play? 

It has a gritty underbelly that I feel other musicals don’t necessarily have. It’s in your face, but in a fun way! I’m interested to see how people respond to the work. I think we’ve made some choices that may be different from what people familiar with the show would expect, but I hope that our production is original and unique to Drew. 

What do you hope that the audience gets out of it?

Musicals are always fun to watch, so I hope that people have a good time! I also believe that the musical medium lends itself to educating an audience about issues in an engaging way. Aside from that, Heathers has themes that are universal: everyone has felt alone or at the end of their rope at some point in their life. Even when problems seem insurmountable, though, there is always a way out.

Do you have a favorite moment?

One of my favorite parts is the hopefulness that Veronica, the central character, clings on to. She believes her life—and the lives of the people around her—can get better despite the odds. I believe that’s something we should hold on to in our own experiences. I think this show will touch a lot of people, and remind them that life is still beautiful, despite all of the difficult days.

What other plays have you directed at Drew?

My first solo directing project at Drew was last February, and it was a new student-written play, Boys Rule. That process was very script-oriented, with the playwright being in the room and developing the work as we staged it. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have worked as an assistant director on two faculty productions, King Hedley II and Hamlet, in my sophomore and junior years, respectively. Working with professors Rodney Gilbert and Daniel LaPenta gave me the chance to observe other directing processes and that gave me the tools to shape my own way of working. It also instilled in me higher standards and professionalism for myself and my work, which I’m grateful for. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I have a few different areas I’d like to try my hand in! I’ve had internship experience working in casting and literary departments, but I would also say my greatest love is directing. I know I want to attend graduate school, but I want to take time to gain more experience and find what I really want to hone my skills in on. Being involved with the New York Semester on Theatre and working with Tectonic Theatre Project has also awakened my love for devised theatre, so perhaps I’ll do more work in that area.