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Fargo North's 'Heathers' offers '80s fun with powerful message

Fargo North drama students rehearse a scene from their production of “Heathers.” David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Theater students at Fargo's North High School are putting on what they call a "darkly-delicious black comedy" not only full of '80s nostalgia but meaningful lessons for today's teens.

"Heathers: The Musical (High School Edition)" is a new, PG-13 version of the 2014 off-Broadway smash based on the popular 1989 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.

"The film is known for its snappy dialogue and memorable lines, so it's a really fun script to bring to life," says director Thomas Gillen. "The rock music is fantastic and the '80s fashion is really fun. But at the heart of this story is the truth that being in high school is hard. Being a teenager is hard. Teenagers now — even more than teenagers then — face a lot of difficult situations, and this show really explores some of these — bullying, suicide, unhealthy relationships, the social pressures of high school. These are the same issues that the cast, pit and crew are dealing with on a regular basis."

At the center of the story is Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful teenage misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. But eventually Heather Chandler, the leader of the clique, kicks Veronica out of the group.

"There will always be 'Heathers' in your life: people who try use their power to intimidate, bully or hurt," Gillen says. "Our message is that everyone can stand up and make a difference. Each of us can speak up for ourselves and for other people who need someone to be their voice. We can work together to 'make it beautiful' even in hard situations."

Fargo North is collaborating with FirstLink and The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center to help the cast and crew discover ways to be positive and empathetic leaders in school and the community. Gillen says students are having conversations with loved ones — something they hadn't done before digging into these issues. Other students are volunteering in the community and finding new ways to help others.

"That, to me, is the power of the arts," Gillen says. "I hope the audience sees something powerful in the fact that these are teenagers playing teenagers whose characters are struggling and overcoming obstacles that are extremely relevant to today's youth. We hope that our audiences laugh, enjoy some great entertainment, but that they leave with a little more empathy and understanding."

If You Go

What: Heathers: The Musical (High School Edition)

When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 7, 8, and 9 and 2 p.m. Dec. 10

Where: North High School, 801 17th Ave. N., Fargo

Info: Tickets are $6-8.

Tracy Briggs

Tracy Briggs is a former TV anchor/radio host currently working as a features writer and video host for Forum Communications.

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