Amy Heckerling has wised up in revisiting "Clueless" for the stage in the 21st Century. She’s pitched it for the audience that came of age when the original movie was released in 1995 – Gen X. Well, it would be hard not to. The movie is so entrenched in 1990’s teenage culture that to try and tear it away from it’s roots would be folly. Besides, its original fans are all grown up and should have the bucks to spring for a theater ticket. And the "Clueless" update includes a nod to today’s activist sentiments, without political overtones. So that it ends on an upbeat, rousing moment that places it squarely in this day and age. Smart.
There are plenty of other smart elements to Clueless, The Musical, currently being presented by The New Group in this world premiere production at Pershing Square Signature Center. For instance, plaid is the iconic name of the "Clueless" design game. Beowulf Boritt has designed a set that is swathed in plaid. There are furniture props that come on and off stage to denote different locations, but the background is always the same. Darrel Maloney’s projection design, which covers the entire back wall and floor of the stage, is a huge expanse of melon colored plaid with a sparkly stripe running through it. Costume designer Amy Clark not only takes up the plaid challenge but recreates Cher (Dove Cameron) and Dionne’s (Zurin Villanueva) iconic first outfits. If it looks like a duck….
The other element that hasn’t strayed too much, if at all, from the movie is the dialog. A lot of it is identical. I know because I watched the movie the night before I saw the musical. Hey, it’s not plagiarism if Amy Heckerling wrote both scripts. And the plot doesn’t really change until the very end – they just add a few musical numbers. Thank goodness. What saves, and makes, Clueless, The Musical from being a rehash of a who cares teenage privilege movie, into a fun nostalgic evening, is what they’ve done with the music.
It took me a couple of songs to catch on (full disclosure – I’m a Boomer not a Gen X’er), but the music is all iconic songs from the 90’s with rewritten lyrics by Heckerling. Sometimes they’re whole songs, or sometimes it’s just a quick chorus. Like when Cher is shopping and trying on a shrug (for those of you who are fashion challenged that’s a short, cropped cardigan), she sings a quick ditty to the tune of TLC’s “No Scrubs”:
“No, I don’t want no shrugs
They’re just stupid sleeves that get no love from me...
Hangin’ on the clearance rack
Cause they look so whack, tryin’ to come home with me
Heckerling has used the original titles and lyrics and fit them into the moment of the show that uses their original meaning or flavor well. The scene where she takes her stepbrother Josh (Dave Thomas Brown) to school to show him how she talks her teachers into changing her grades, provides a great ensemble moment for a number set to (and using the title of) The Spin Doctors’ “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” The audience is completely invested in each musical number, cheering and clapping when they recognize the song. Smart again.
Clueless, The Musical is a fun, nostalgic night out that isn’t going to break the bank or challenge your core belief system. Dove Cameron has a lovely voice and is perky and earnest as Cher. Dave Thomas Brown is “older boy sophisticated” and handsome as Josh, and he can sing and dance naturally. Only time will tell if they wind up with careers like their movie counterparts Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd.
(Photo by Monique Carboni)
What the popular press says...
"As the latest incarnation of Cher (and did I mention there's a movie remake in the works, too?), Dove Cameron has the poise and presence to anchor a show, and she sings and dances like a pro. Yet in stepping into the heightened, smiley landscape of musical comedy, Cher has perhaps inevitably acquired an extra, fatal degree of sparkle, and it pushes her from charming into cute."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A few blocks from Broadway, where The Cher Show is raking in million-dollar weekly grosses, another musical with a Hollywood pedigree is putting a heroine named Cher in the spotlight. But as the mini-skirted Beverly Hills high schooler Cher Horowitz might say, this musical version of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 big-screen hit “Clueless” is mostly just whack."
Thom Geier for The Wrap
"It was probably too much to hope that this recycled iteration could recapture lightning in a bottle, but the flame of originality barely flickers, leaving a show that feels only intermittently fresh, despite the commitment of a perky young cast ably captained by Dove Cameron as Cher."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling's 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, make this further take on Jane Austen’s upscale do-gooder “Emma” a delight once again."
Frank Rizzo for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...