"How Very": Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy on Collaboration and Competition While Writing Heathers: The Musical

By Carey Purcell
01 Apr 2014

Barrett Wilbert Weed in Heathers.
photo by Chad Batka

But, Murphy and O'Keefe were quick to add, the movie and the musical both contain a message of hope.

"At the very end of the movie, you see that [Veronica] has accepted her power," O'Keefe said. "She's forgiven her classmates enough to take care of them now. She has learned how to take care of them; she's accepted her responsibility. What makes it awesome is that it just so happens that these moments of optimism and hope are exactly what musical theatre needs. You cannot do a musical about nothing but anger, posing, competition, cruelty and violence."

One area where hope was added to the musical was the song "I Love My Dead Gay Son," a line spoken at a funeral by a father who has been led to believe his son committed suicide due to repressed homosexuality. O'Keefe and Murphy knew they had to take the story one step further by creating conflict between two grieving fathers — one of whom does not support homosexuality.

"It's a grieving dad who has built something positive out of his hideous negative experience," O'Keefe said. "So I was like, 'Aha! We can't do a whole song of that.' In the movie it only took eight seconds. For the musical, we need something else. That dad does not earn a three-minute song singing about how he loves his dead gay son, unless he's educating someone who needs education.

"The other dad is a bigot. The other dad reacts with fear and self-loathing to discovering his son wasn't who he thought he was," he continued. "So the dad who has learned something from this, the sadder but wiser dad, steps up and says, 'How dare you? I can't believe you're saying that. It is ignorant, hateful talk like yours that makes this world a place our boys cannot live in. I have learned something from his death. Stop spreading hate.' And suddenly, you've earned a song."

The song is filled with witty lines, sung so quickly one can barely catch them all, which O'Keefe and Murphy also credit to their competitive nature.

"We're both sort of, as fast as we can, trying to top each other with the first line," O'Keefe said. "If your first line is fantastic and it makes people laugh, just because of the first line, you've already set the ground. So we're fighting each other, trying to come up with that line."

Murphy offered insight into the creative process, saying, "One of the things that's kind of funny — when one of us presents a lyric idea to the other, if we don't like the one that's presented, we don't go back and present the first one. Now the challenge is presented to find something that's even better than either of the two options. That's worked really well, because it's forced us to life more weight, jump higher, and to push ourselves."

The competition must have been easy for Murphy; when asked how he gained insight into the minds of 17 year-old girls, he promptly responded, "I never left." Turning to O'Keefe, he added, "Now top that."

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)

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The cast
Photo by Chad Batka