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FGCU students have ‘Big Fun’ in TheatreZone’s ‘Heathers’


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Future stars of the stage collaborate with professional Equity actors in Heathers: The Musical, a joint production of Naples’ TheatreZone and Florida Gulf Coast University’s Bowers School of Music. Considered the greatest teen comedy of all time, Heathers offers a hilarious, heartfelt and homicidal look at the joys and angst of a high school bullied by the hottest, cruelest girls in all of Ohio: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke and Heather McNamara.

Heathers: The Musical is the perfect choice for a TheatreZone-FGCU collaboration. The musical places a premium on acting, singing and choreography.

As importantly to Theatre Zone co-founders Mark and Karen Danni, the musical’s themes resonate with FGCU performers and audiences.

“Heathers is an edgier show,” said Mark Danni. “It’s a show that the younger 20-year-olds, and even younger, gravitate to. They like the content of it. I think it is timely in dealing with high school angst and the issues of that.“

“And bullying and hierarchies within the groups, the cliques at the school,” adds Karen Danni. “So we did want to do something that the students were excited to perform as well as giving them all the components.”

Heathers’ lyric-laden song and dance numbers also make it the perfect vehicle for providing student performers with the experience of working alongside Equity actors at a musical theater pace, which involves opening after just nine rehearsals in ten days.

“These people do this for their career,” Mark Danni. “They’re in the Actors Equity Association, and they work on professional contracts. Us, being Equity Theater, we provide them with a contract. We also pay into their health and pension fund, so when they work so many weeks, they’re qualified for health benefits. They’re also getting money into a pension, and it’s ensuring a certain level of competency, because these people have devoted their life to this craft.”

In high school and community theaters, the rehearsal process typically spans four to six weeks, and it is not unusual for actors to still be learning their lines right up to the week before the show opens.

As Karen and Mark Danni point out, working with Equity actors at professional musical theater pace is vastly different.

“A lot of the students haven’t had that experience where they start the first rehearsal already off book or already knowing the music or already knowing their harmonies,” said Karen Danni.”So, they see that and they’re like, wow, oh, okay, I better step it up and it brings them up a little bit too, the level. You see each year their proficiency increasing after seeing how it’s done.”

“At what level they need to be at in the world, if you’re going to do this for a living, you’re expected to walk in that prepared,” said Mark Danni.

This is TheatreZone’s fifth Equity actor collaboration with the FGCU music and theater program, following Godspell, Xanadu, Urinetown and the Gershwin show, Of Thee I Sing. In each, the Dannis watched their invited Equity actors take an active interest in the students, sharing inside information about the industry and figuratively fighting for them to elevate their game.

The TheatreZone-FGCU collaboration is not just a win for theater students, it’s big fun for the university’s music students too.

“While we have a professional music director conducting from the piano, the rest of the band is the music students here. And there’s a great world out there of income-generating work playing in orchestra pits for musicals … It’s a whole different animal playing for a musical theater show and what you have to do, so having the experience of working in a musical theater orchestra pit is really great for those musicians as well.”

FGCU theater and music students don’t just benefit from working with and being around Equity actors. They also benefit from the Dannis’ vast experience.

“Karen and I spent 14 years in New York City working in this business, and we toured and we worked on and off Broadway and in regional theaters, and it’s really nice to be able to share with these students this is what it’s like out there.”

See the difference for yourself.

There are five performances of Heathers in the cozy 90-seat FGCU TheatreLab October 12th through the 15th. It promises to be ‘BIG FUN.’


  • Go here for play dates, times and a full cast list.
  • Based on the 1989 cult classic film, Heathers: The Musical was written Lawrence O’Keefe (Bat Boy, Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness, Desperate Housewives).
  • Heathers received two Drama Desk nominations (Outstanding Music and Outstanding Actress in a Musical) and two Lucille Lortel nominations (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical and Outstanding Choreography).
  • The first performance of Heathers: The Musical was September 2010 at Joe’s Pub in New York City, followed by a run at the Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles in 2013. Heathers returned to New York Off-Broadway in March 2013 at New World Stages under the direction of Andy Fickman and ran through August 4, 2014. Its Off Broadway run was followed by an engagement in the West End in 2018.
  • Heathers is the first Equity actor collaboration that TheatreZone has done with FGCU since the pandemic.
  • “We had a great turnout at auditions, bigger than we ever … more students than we’ve ever had in the past,” reports Karen Danni. “We could have cast this three or four different ways. They were so good and it was a tough decision.”
  • Although the cast will participate in nine rehearsals in ten days, Mark and Karen Danni did conduct four Friday rehearsals with just the students to work on blocking and choreography prior to the start of the rehearsal process.
  • “It’s a high-energy show,” adds choreographer Karen Danni. “These kids are wonderful. The energy they bring to each rehearsal, they’re so enthusiastic about it. They come in knowing the dances from the last time I teach them. I’m so proud of them. It brings me a lot of joy to work with them.”
  • “The talent pool has increased over the last ten years incredibly here, and I should say besides just the acting talent, they have a really great technical theater program here,” notes Mark Danni. “TheatreZone for years has been using these students to come and run our follow spotlights, to be Second Assistant Stage Managers, to work as costume assistants and help with sound and lighting.”
  • TheatreZone is a professional equity theater that is located in Naples, Florida. An equity theater means that the members belong to the Actors Equity Association.
  • Mark Danni is the Founding Producing Artistic Director of TheatreZone, a professional Equity theatre company in Naples, Florida and he created and runs the theatre program at The
  • Community School of Naples. Mark has been involved with many Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional productions as a Director, Music Director, Conductor and Drummer/Percussionist. His New York City directing credits include What Would Esther Williams Do In A Situation Like This?, Sea Fever, and Aggravation.
  • He has conducted national tours of Les Miserables and Barnum, and as a Drummer/Percussionist, Mark’s Broadway credits include Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun, Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Grand Hotel. Mark has also been a part of national tours of The Phantom of the Opera, Fame, Hair, 42nd Street, Nunsense, and the European Tour of Evita. Danni is a member of The Society for Directors & Choreographers and the American Federation of Musicians.

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