Along with brilliant writing, dark humor, Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty and a timeless subject matter (high school jerks), the incredible late-'80s costumes in "Heathers" were a big part of what made the 1989 film great and memorable.
So when it was announced that a musical version of the film would be hitting the Broadway stage, we were just as eager to find out if the production did the clothes justice as we were to hear our favorite one-liners ("Lick it up, baby," etc.). And they did, although, there were some differences: Namely, there were fewer costume changes, and outfits were designed to accommodate dance movements (yes, there's dancing). We chatted with "Heathers the Musical" costume designer Amy Clark about how she got the job and the daunting task of translating the cult film's iconic looks for the stage.
(Disclaimer: If you haven't seen the movie or the play then you probably won't understand most of this interview.)
What a dream job. How did you get into costume design initially?
I've been working professionally for about 12 years now. I went to graduate school at NYU at the Tisch School for design and graduated in 2001, so I've been working pretty regularly since then. I started as an assistant on Broadway shows and then maintained my own smaller career as I was assisting. I ultimately transitioned into designing my own stuff on Broadway, and off Broadway.
And how did you get involved with "Heathers the Musical"?
I am a huge fan of the movie and one of the set designers that I share a studio with was interviewing for it, and it's a general management office that he and I had both worked for before. I called them immediately and was like, 'Hey, I want to meet this director.' This movie was a huge part of my high school experience and everything so it was the first time I really sought something out like that. [The director] and I met and really hit it off and decided to work together.
So how did you translate the film's looks for the stage? Were there any constraints?
The only constraint really is the physicality of the show. Our idea had always been to pay the movie the utmost respect, the movie is designed brilliantly, so how do you necessarily translate the idea of what's happening in the movie to the stage for a contemporary audience, so our idea was kind of for it to reference the '80s, but we couldn't necessarily make the show what we needed it to be if we were really literal about the time period. So, the color story is totally there, the shoulder pads are totally there, but we needed to turn that into a silhouette that worked for movement, that worked for the dancers.
Our entire environment, it's not very literal. We're not ever literally in the high school. So I kind of approached the clothes the same way. They needed to be able to transcend reality, so things are a little extra tight, things are a little extra short, it's not a documentary of 1989, it's definitely a theatrical interpretation of it.
Where did you source the clothes? Did you build them or shop at vintage stores?
It's a combination. When it comes to dancing, it's really hard to find stuff that dancers can really move in, so I knew right away that I wanted to build all the blazers for Veronica and the Heathers. I would never find things with a shoulder pad silhouette like that and a fitted waist, and to support our color palette. A lot of it is vintage stuff, and a lot of it is completely contemporary stuff that we then kind of altered, refit and played around with to make it suit our purposes.
I noticed the characters don't ever really change costumes. Was that due to budgetary constraints?
It's a combination. [Part of it is] the overall storytelling approach to the show, so because our set never really changes, it's not a literal interpretation of time or place. If we took time literally [by changing the costumes], it doesn't make sense that we don't take our places literally. So we felt like these [characters] represent archetypes of high school society and so there wasn't really the need to change them. Other than seeing Veronica's transformation [into a Heather], if you start to acknowledge it in certain places then you have to acknowledge it everywhere, and we go through too many days to have done that effectively without anything else changing in our set.
Any funny backstories to any of the costumes?
Martha's unicorn sweatshirt is based on something from my childhood. It was my favorite thing to wear around 1985.
Martha's wardrobe seemed brighter and more colorful than it was in the movie.
Our Martha is sort of a combination of Martha Dumptruck from the movie and Betty [Finn] and as much as there's a self-consciousness in Betty there's also a hopefulness, and I feel like there's such a cruelty in the kids at this school and everyone's just trying to get out alive, but I feel like with Martha there's a blind hopefulness... until Veronica shatters that for her, and just the things that she alludes to -- rainbows and that there will be a happy ending. She'll always present herself to the world that way, that she'll have a happy ending.
Were any characters more difficult to costume than others? Especially given that there were no changes?
In a weird way I don't think there were because the way that Larry [Laurence O'Keefe] and Kevin [Murphy] wrote it, all the principal characters are so rooted in the origin of the movie and so I felt really comfortable with those. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they're titled so well, they're named things like, 'young Republicanette,' 'blow-dry preppy,' 'goth girl,' so they're really these archetypes from high school and the audience has to recognize them. In the first five seconds of the show, you have to be able to identify all of those people.
Random question: Did you make the big red scrunchies or can I go buy one somewhere?
We made them. Just so they were a good scale for the stage. It was definitely a little larger than it would be in real life, but again that's kind of similar to the skirts being shorter and the jackets being so nipped at the waist and big in the shoulders. Everything has to have enough of a theatrical presence that the whole language of the show makes sense.
Any other thoughts or reflections about your "Heathers" experience?
I love the show, I had such a great time doing it. There's nobody involved in this that is not in love with this movie, so I think that's such a place to bond that I've never experience on another show, because I've never done something like this where it was a movie already and it's such a specific kind of movie that a specific kind of person or personality is drawn to, so I think we all really bonded over just the pure love of the content, so I feel really lucky that I got to be a part of it and I hope it thrives.