By Donna Herman
Amy Heckerling has wised up in revisiting Clueless for the stage in the 21st Century. She’s pitched it for the audience that came of age when the original movie was released in 1995 – Gen X. Well, it would be hard not to. The movie is so entrenched in 1990’s teenage culture that to try and tear it away from it’s roots would be folly. Besides, its original fans are all grown up and should have the bucks to spring for a theater ticket. And the Clueless update includes a nod to today’s activist sentiments, without political overtones. So that it ends on an upbeat, rousing moment that places it squarely in this day and age. Smart.
There are plenty of other smart elements to Clueless, the musical. For instance, plaid is the iconic name of the Clueless design game. Beowulf Boritt has designed a set that is swathed in plaid. There are furniture props that come on and off stage to denote different locations, but the background is always the same. Darrel Maloney’s projection design, which covers the entire back wall and floor of the stage, is a huge expanse of melon colored plaid with a sparkly stripe running through it. Costume designer Amy Clark not only takes up the plaid challenge but recreates Cher (Dove Cameron) and Dionne’s (Zurin Villanueva) iconic first outfits. If it looks like a duck….
The other element that hasn’t strayed too much, if at all, from the movie is the dialog. A lot of it is identical. I know because I watched the movie the night before I saw the musical. Hey, it’s not plagiarism if Amy Heckerling wrote both scripts. And the plot doesn’t really change until the very end – they just add a few musical numbers. Thank goodness. What saves, and makes, Clueless, the musical from being a rehash of a who cares teenage privilege movie, into a fun nostalgic evening, is what they’ve done with the music.
It took me a couple of songs to catch on (full disclosure – I’m a Boomer not a Gen X’er), but the music is all iconic songs from the 90’s with rewritten lyrics by Heckerling. Sometimes they’re whole songs, or sometimes it’s just a quick chorus. Like when Cher is shopping and trying on a shrug (for those of you who are fashion challenged that’s a short, cropped cardigan), she sings a quick ditty to the tune of TLC’s “No Scrubs:”
“No, I don’t want no shrugs They’re just stupid sleeves that get no love from me... Hangin’ on the clearance rack Cause they look so whack, tryin’ to come home with me Noooooo, shrugs”
Heckerling has used the original titles and lyrics and fit them into the moment of the show that uses their original meaning or flavor well. The scene where she takes her stepbrother Josh (Dave Thomas Brown) to school to show him how she talks her teachers into changing her grades, provides a great ensemble moment for a number set to (and using the title of) The Spin Doctors’ “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” The audience is completely invested in each musical number, cheering and clapping when they recognize the song. Smart again.
Clueless, the musical is a fun, nostalgic night out that isn’t going to break the bank or challenge your core belief system. Dove Cameron has a lovely voice and is perky and earnest as Cher. Dave Thomas Brown is “older boy sophisticated” and handsome as Josh, and he can sing and dance naturally. Only time will tell if they wind up with careers like their movie counterparts Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd.
Clueless, Screenplay by Amy Heckerling, Directed by Kristin Hanggi, Choreography by Kelly Devine
WITH: Ephie Aardema (Tai); Sara Andreas (Heather); Gilbert L. Bailey II (Murray); Dave Thomas Brown (Josh); Dove Cameron (Cher); Will Connolly (Travis); Danielle Marie Gonzalez (Lucy); Tessa Grady (Amber); Talya Groves (Summer); Chris Hoch (Mel/Mr. Hall/DMV Instructor); L’ogan J’ones (Max); Darius Jordan Lee (Sean); Justin Mortelliti (Christian); Megan Sikora (Miss Geist/Ms. Stoeger); Brett Thiele (Elton); Zurin Villanueva (Dionne); Tiffany Engen (Female Swing/Dance Captain); Katie Goffman (Female Swing); Jeff Kuhr (Male Swing).
ORCHESTRA: Matthew Smedal (Music Director/Keyboard 1); Charles Santoro (Assoc. Music Director/Keyboard 2); Marc Malsengna (Guitar 1); David Linaburg (Guitar 2); Amanda Ruzza (Bass); Adam Wolfe (Drums).
Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design by Amy Clark; Lighting Design by Jason Lyons; Sound Design by Gareth Owen; Projection Design by Darrel Maloney; Music Supervision, Arrangement & Orchestration by Ethan Popp, Production Supervisor, Five Ohm Productions; Production Stage Manager, Mary MacLeod; CJ LaRoche & Justin Myhre, Assistant Stage Managers; Casting by Tara Rubin Casting, Merri Sugarman, CSA; Public Relations by Bridget Klapinski. Presented by The New Group, Artistic Director Scott Elliott; Executive Director Adam Bernstein. At The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street through January 12th. For tickets visit www.ticketcentral.com.