Heathers bad boy Stephen Madsen talks return seasons, cult movies and all things very

Chances are you’ve seen the 80s cult classic film Heathers, with its darkly humorous story of high school cliques, power-crazy scrunchie-wearing girls and trench-wearing bad boys. The off-Broadway smash hit musical translates all of this glory straight to the stage, and now after a sell-out season at the Hayes theatre Heathers is marching its shoulder-pads straight on up to the Sydney Opera House.

Our trench-wearing bad boy is Stephen Madsen as J.D., who returns to the role he received two Sydney Theatre Award nominations for. We caught up for a chat ahead of next week’s opening to talk return seasons, cult movies and all things very.

So tell us, what’s your damage? What’s it like returning as J.D. with Heathers at the Opera House?

It’s great to be home and doing my first show at the Opera House. I’m the opposite of damaged at the moment.

Are you a cult movie kind of guy? Did you watch Heathers growing up?

Let’s just say I take games of Scene It very seriously. I saw the movie when I was young enough to not understand all of it but I’m a total horror buff so I enjoyed the edginess and danger of it.

What do you think is the most important thing when translating such a recognized film into another medium, particularly an unexpected one like a musical?

I think it’s important not to feel like you have to recreate something. The film exists, it always will and the stage version is a different beast. It took a bit of time for me to give myself permission to make it my own. I really appreciate that the show isn’t just a facsimile of the film; it has it’s own attitude. The musical was written more then twenty years after the movie so it’s speaking to a new generation and judging by the online reaction it really connects with young people. Plus, it’s pumped full of 80s nostalgia and everyone’s favourite lines have survived so there is still plenty to enjoy for fans of the original.

How do you get into the character of such a… rebellious and “dangerous” guy?

I put on the vintage trenchcoat that our incredible costume designer Angie White sourced and it does 90% of the work. I also have a very angsty J.D. playlist on my iPhone in case I’m feeling too cheerful. It helps that I’ve been paired with two exceptionally talented leading women who are a gift to play off.

JD Melbourne 1

This is of course your second show making it to a return season after RENT, congratulations! Do shows differ when they are on a re-run? Is there a different process for when you approach the script and staging? Do many things change?

Thank you! I’ve been extremely lucky to work with two extremely strong creative teams on Heathers and Rent and they’ve both been a pleasure to revisit. I think they are different this time around. They feel more settled because we’re not trying to prove ourselves quite as desperately and the material has had time to sink in. Having new cast members forces you to keep it fresh because choices that worked opposite Jaz Flowers, for example, don’t work with Hilary. She brings a completely different but equally valid reading to the table and it’s my job to listen and respond.

How do you approach a show differently taking it from a small independent charismatic theatre like the Hayes to the shiny floorboards of the Opera House Playhouse?

Your instincts are the same but to give the audience the same experience of the show everything has to click up a notch. I love acting and watching shows at the Hayes because it’s so immediate and involving. No matter what theatre I’m in I always sit in different areas of the audience when I’m not needed onstage in rehearsals so that I’m aware of how the show looks from every extreme. I think if you’re aware of your responsibility to give the same experience to everyone then that subconsciously influences your stagecraft. At least, I hope it does. If not, I apologise to whoever books seat X29.

JD Melbourne 3

What’s up next for you after Heathers?

All of the auditions in the land. I’ve got a few things in the pipeline that are still very much up in the air but first I’m going to give my voice a rest and catch up on Game of Thrones.

And finally, what things would you say are so very?

Per diems, my dog (Mozart) and the Heathers fans who come decked out in full costume to the show (and not just the costumes you’d expect, there have been some seriously creative cosplay efforts). And world peace.

Stephen will be donning that excellent vintage trenchcoat in Heathers at the Sydney Opera House from the 8th – 26th June.

For more information and to book visit http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/heathers_the_musical.aspx

Photo credit (c) Kurt Sneddon



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