Hair, Grease, Rent, Mean Girls, Be More Chill, Kimberly Akimbo and countless other musicals have all covered the growing pains of adolescence and the angst of youth. Few, however, have evolved around a high school Messiah figure. Book writer/composer and lyricist Paul Gordon has set his spiritual sights towards the heavenly realm in the light-hearted, feel-good tuner, The Gospel According to Heather.
From the opening number, we’re told by the title character, Heather Krebs (Brittany Nicole Williams) that she feels like a “freak of nature” and that “she needs to get out of this place but is not so sure that she will.” Life is tough for a young girl who is trying to find herself in Sharonville, Ohio—especially when she does turn out to be something of a Deity. Fortunately, she takes comfort in the friendship of Agatha (Katey Sagal), an elderly lady at the senior center. She’s one of the few who actually “gets” Heather.
Sagal is best known for her television work in the hit shows Married…With Children and Sons of Anarchy. Her name, understandably, has been used on much of the marketing and advertising for the piece. Initially, she seems to be underutilized in a minor role. But, as Heather teaches us, miracles still happen. Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to say that theater does have the power to surprise and Agatha finally gets a moment to shine.
Broadway veteran Jeremy Kushnier is another stand-out in dual roles: Ray, a down on his luck homeless man who grants wisdom and insight to Heather–and Booker Ralston, a local radio personality (stylized after the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson ) whose radical agenda pollutes the airwaves with ludicrous fiction. Kushnier’s voice is particularly fine in Ray’s heartfelt song, “Spread a Little Light.”
Gordon knows how to score a great melody and his music is consistently buoyant and catchy. It doesn’t hurt that it’s performed by a strong cast (a lovely mixture of Off-Broadway newcomers and seasoned players).
There is a lot packed into The Gospel According to Heather: spiritual awakenings, mortality, the fight against radicalism, teen bullying, and general teenage woes. With Christopher and Justin Swader’s first rate set design, Saawan Tiwari’s eye catching costume, and the rest of the creative team’s contributions, it’s one of the few Off-Broadway shows that punches well above its weight.
The show’s cheeky advertisement’s state that this is “God’s favorite Off-Broadway musical.” While one should not speak for the Almighty, it would be tough to believe that this one is it. Solid though it is, it’s just an enjoyable night at the theater with little staying power in the memory. For the modest price of admission, however, it’s money and time worthy of an “amen.”
The Gospel According to Heather is now playing Off-Broadway through July 16th at Theater 555 (42nd Street between 10th and 11th Ave.) For tickets and information, click here.