Adapting an eight-second scene featuring a single line from a movie into a three-minute gospel-style musical number might sound like an exercise in insanity for some, but for Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy, it was just another step in a long-standing friendly competition.
The songwriting team behind Heathers: The Musical, which opened March 31 at New World Stages, has shared a friendly rivalry for years, consisting of admiration for each other's creativity, promptly followed by attempts to one-up each other. The most recent outcome — the musical adaptation of the cult favorite 1988 dark comedy about high school cliques — features the results of this contest in its witty, sarcastic score, including the show-stopping second-act song, "I Love My Dead Gay Son," which was inspired by a single line in the film.
"Every time I see his stuff, I'm like, 'I wish I'd thought of that!'" O'Keefe said of Murphy's work. "That's been my reaction 12 times in act one, nine times in act two of Reefer [Madness]. In 'Ed.' In 'Desperate Housewives.' Even yesterday or a few days ago, when we were finishing our latest song, which is my favorite song this week."
O'Keefe and Murphy, whose respective credits include Bat Boy, Legally Blonde and Reefer Madness, are now applying their talents and rivalry to Heathers: The Musical, which tells the story of a high school terrorized by three popular girls (all named Heather) and the rebellious romantic duo Veronica and JD, who set out to change the social status quo — with some disastrous results.
The two spoke highly of the film and the honesty in its portrayal of high school hell.
"It's incredibly funny. It's funny because it's truthful," O'Keefe said. "It told the truth that people didn't want to admit about their kids, their schools, their parents, and faculty, about the 80s. It was a great antidote at the time.
"We live in a much more 'Heathers' world now, which was ruled by cynicism, the expectation that things are wrong, the expectation that people are out to get you," he added. "To us, the subversive thing is to go the other way and to look for glimmers of hope, look for the moments of optimism, the moments of fighting back, seeking justice, where the heroine is active and tries to fix the world."
While researching for the musical, O'Keefe and Murphy read teen psychology books and noticed numerous trends that read almost like a checklist of the characters in "Heathers."
"Dan Waters, instinctively, just by being a journalist and looking around him, by not being a psychiatrist, managed to truthfully identify all the ways that teens find to be horrible to each other," Murphy said. "And he managed an incredible swift wit, which is what makes the movie so incredibly special."
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