A few years ago, I went through a phase where I tried to catch up on classic films. I watched Some Like it Hot and Casablanca and then I gave up after getting scarred by Chinatown. What I should have been doing was getting caught up on 90s movies.
Until last week, I had never seen Clueless. I’d been putting it off until I finished Emma, because it’s a modernization of the Austen classic. As always, I work better with a deadline and Dove Cameron, who is on my top 5 list of celebrity crushes, was playing Cher in an Off-Broadway production of Clueless: The Musical.
I finished the book just in time.
Dove Cameron had been dealing with an injury prior to the performance we had tickets for, but we were happy to see her back in her knee highs and yellow plaid during the opening number. Every song for this musical was a reworked 90s song, starting with “It’s a Beautiful Life,” during which they introduced Zurin Villanueva, playing Dionne, Chris Hoch, playing Mel, and Dave Thomas Brown, playing Josh. These performers were full of energy and charisma, with just the right amount of bubbliness for a period piece like this.
I liked the translation of Churchill’s deception to Christian hiding his homosexuality. It makes him more sympathetic while giving Cher another layer too. As in the book, my favorite bit was how Cher grew, which was even clearer in the musical. In the musical, she gained self-awareness enough to apologize to Travis for misjudging him as well as hosting a letter-writing campaign to help improve the environment.
The best change in the adaptation is how the visual medium allows us to see Josh’s feelings for Cher develop throughout the story. In the book, it’s subtle because the story is told from Emma’s perspective and she herself doesn’t see it until he says something to her. With the wider angle of the show, we see it before Josh himself does. As he sings “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” (which was way better than the Spin Doctors original, by the way), the audience can see his grudging adoration. By the time Cher and Josh are dueting over “She’s So High,” their feelings for each other are obvious to everyone…except them.
The rewritten lyrics propel the plot and immerse the audience in the 1990s, and its all thanks to Amy Heckerling who, despite never working in theater before, managed to perfectly adapt her own work (the original Clueless) to the stage. Beowulf Boritt, set designer, uses props to set the stage, transitioning easily from Cher’s cozy home to the public school and even to the spooky liquor store parking lot that Josh has to save her from. The party atmosphere was achieved with Kelly Devine, the choreographer, setting dances that looked more fun than staged.
Of course, all of this could only be achieved because director Kristin Hanggi knew what she was doing, bringing all the pieces together for a fun dance party, romantic comedy, and teen coming-of-age story all in one.
After a limited run, Clueless the Musical closed on January 12th. Personally, I’ll be excited to see what each of these talented people does next.