When Scott Miller founded St. Louis’ New Line Theatre in 1991, his mission was to present edgy musicals. Problem was, hardly any were available.
“So in the early years, we did some shows that I wrote and we did some re-imagined shows, like ‘Camelot’ with a really small cast, that kind of thing,” Miller said.
Twenty-five years later, it’s a very different story.
Miller has a “huge array of choices” when it comes to musicals with his signature style. But sometimes he has to act fast. Like when he wanted to open this silver anniversary season, in his new Grand Center venue called Marcelle, with the new musical “Heathers,” adapted from the 1988 film.
“I think all of us were in love with the movie and the show was really, really good,” Miller said. “So the second we could have the ‘rights,’ we grabbed them.”
A ‘creepy negative’
“Heathers” is New Line’s 75th show. It’s the story of three bullies who share the same name. High-school angst turns to murderous revenge as they take a new girl, Veronica, into their group. It bucks the trend of others in its genre because it doesn’t end “happily ever after” with the outcast eventually fitting in.
“A lot of the '80s teen movies are about the hero having to conform, and ‘Heathers’ is kind of the creepy negative of that,” Miller said.
The musical is a bloody examination of bullying but it also flows with dark humor.
“I think people love going on an emotional roller-coaster like that,” Miller said.
‘Having a blast’
It’s been eight years since New Line’s operated in its ideal venue: a black box theater, a mostly bare space with black walls, moveable seating and flexible lighting.
In 2007, the company had to leave the Art Loft Theater on Washington Avenue. And although Miller is grateful for the opportunity to use the former CBC High School building in Clayton since then, he’s thrilled to open this season in the new Marcelle on Samuel Shepard Drive in Grand Center.
The adaptability of the 150-seat theater allows New Line to stage “Heathers” in an “L”-shape.
Actor Joel Hackbarth plays the roles of two different dads as well as the high-school principal. It’s his 14th show with New Line, since 1992, which means he goes back almost to the birth of the theater company.
Hackbarth said the configuration allowed by the black box brings the audience right up against the actors, creating a unique experience.
“They get to be part of the show because we’re right up there, singing in their faces,” Hackbarth said.
So now that New Line has its dream venue, what’s next for the theater troupe that bills itself as the “bad boy of musical theater?”
“I want to keep doing what we’re doing,” Miller said. “We’re having a success at it, we’re having a blast, there’s relatively low pressure on us, and that’s all really cool.”
‘Heathers’ by New Line Theatre
Where: Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr., 63103
When: Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 1-24
How much: $25; $20 students, seniors
Tickets: Metrotix website
Information: New Line website
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL