Slow Burn Theatre Company has always looked for daring, offbeat, challenging musical theater to bring to the stage – and that didn’t stop this year when the company moved its productions to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
So when the company got the opportunity to stage Heathers the Musical – as the name might indicate, it’s a musical version of 1988 cult classic film Heathers – it was a no-brainer. For Slow Burn co-founder and executive director Matthew Korinko, shows like Heathers are why the company exists.
“We built ourselves on offering the not-so-mainstream titles,” Korinko says. “Obviously you can’t get your hands on Wicked or anything like that but enough people are doing Oklahoma! or Hello, Dolly! … all the standards, that when we started Slow Burn we wanted to do some of the stuff that’s just as good – a little meatier in some cases – and that some people shy away from.”
For Korinko and Slow Burn co-founder and artistic director Patrick Fitzwater, Heathers the Musical ticked those boxes and more.
“It was a bit of a hit off Broadway,” Korinko says. “It had visions of Broadway, but it just didn’t work out one way or another.”
Korinko loves the style – there’s dark humor and toilet humor, but the work has heart. He compares it to Book of Mormon, which on the surface comes across as an indictment of a religion but is also imbued with something more. “Through it all there’s just this blind optimism that you feel,” Korinko says. “And I think it’s what lets people forgive the other stuff.”
Korinko compares Larry O’Keefe, who wrote Heathers the Musical, to ’80s film legend John Hughes, the writer and director of classics such as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Hughes had a gift for displaying high school in all its miserableness while also offering redemptive lessons on things like bullying and acceptance. He also painted a picture everybody can identify with.
“I think Larry O’Keefe has a way of doing that too,” Korinko says. “You had that teacher, you had that councilor, you remember those football players who just owned the cafeteria. You remember that weird kid that you didn’t quite know but you wondered what his story was.”
It’s also a nice arc for Slow Burn as the company finishes its first season in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ Amaturo Theatre. O’Keefe also wrote Bad Boy, which Slow Burn performed as its first ever show in 2010.
The road to the Broward Center has been an interesting one for the Slow Burn founders. Before coming to South Florida Korinko and Fitzwater lived in St. Louis, a city with a healthy theater scene that includes several professional companies dedicated to lesser known, offbeat, perhaps more challenging works. “In doing research,” Korinko says, “we found that there just wasn’t anybody doing that with any consistency here.”
They moved here in 2008, founded Slow Burn in 2009 and in February of 2010 staged that first production.
Until this season, the company’s performances were all staged in the West Boca High School auditorium. Korinko describes it as a beautiful facility, perfectly capable of hosting professional productions. But it was still a challenge.
“The hard sell when we were at a high school was that we were at a high school,” Korinko says. “Once people saw one of our shows they’d say ‘I can’t believe you’re here.’”
Then came the 2015-16 season and the move south. In addition to the big touring shows such as the Broadway Across America series that provide much of its revenue, Broward Center leaders see support for local arts as part of the venue’s mission. In Slow Burn, they found a willing partner. A willing partner stepping onto a big stage.
“It is intimidating, but our goal wasn’t to sell out our first run,” Korinko says. “Our goal was to keep our budgets modest and keep going in that space.”
In a musical theater market dominated by big, effects-laden shows, Slow Burn prides itself on smart, professional theater.
“Spectacle is what you have to compete with,” Korinko says. “That’s what’s happening on Broadway.”
Slow Burn’s first Broward Center season has included works such as Big Fish and Spring Awakening – works that go in a different direction. They’re interested in works that are more contemporary – more in the Stephen Sondheim tradition of the musical as complicated story rather than simple plot as a structure to hang the songs on. Korinko has no problem at all with the great old traditional musicals. “But it’s not really what gets our engine running.” They gravitate more towards those “that kind of broke the mold, that pushed the envelope as to what a musical could accomplish.”
There are plenty of talented young actors in South Florida – Slow Burn finds talent coming out of Florida Atlantic University, Florida International, the University of Miami, the New World School of the Arts and more.
“And then we have the advantage of doing the titles that these kids want to do coming out of college,” Korinko says. “We always said we were the theatre company that when you were in college and you had your favorite obscure show – ‘yeah, when I get my own company, this is the show I’m going to do.’ We’re the company that does it.”
Heathers the Musical runs at the Broward Center from June 9 to 26.
Tickets are $45. For tickets and more information, visit browardcenter.org or call the box office on 954.462.0222. Tickets for Slow Burn’s 2016–17 season are now available. For more information, visit browarcenter.org or slowburntheatre.org.