The next interview in our stagey chat series is with rising star, Keelan McAuley, who's currently playing JD in Heathers the Musical. After a limited West End run at @sohoplace, Heathers is embarking on a UK tour until 23rd November 2024.

Get yourself comfy and join us for the next segment of Stagey Chat!

Hi Keelan, how are you today? Thank you so much for chatting to Stage to Page! Would you mind introducing yourself and telling our readers how you first got into acting?

Thank you so much for this opportunity! My name is Keelan McAuley and I am from Calgary, Alberta, Canada (born and raised). I actually started in choir instead of acting. When I was about 10 years old I joined the Calgary Boys Choir and focused on classical singing. A semi-professional theatre was putting on a production of "Oliver!" and they reached out to the choir seeking young boys who could sing. I joined that production as an ensemble boy and enjoyed it so much that I realized that is what I wanted to do instead of choir from then on. My next role was Gavroche in a community theatre production of "Les Mis" and the rest is history. I went through middle and high school continuing to do a variety of professional and amateur theatre, including some small TV and film roles, until I made the move to the UK to train at the Guildford School of Acting.

You're currently making your West End debut as JD in Heathers the Musical. While most readers are probably already familiar with the cult classic, can you tell us more about the show and what it is that drew you to the role of JD?

Heathers is quite a unique and amazing show. I knew about it growing up and was absolutely obsessed with it. It deals with almost every struggle a kid in high school can have, from eating disorders, bullies, and social status. But above all the trivial problems with high school, the core message is that we as humans should strive for a better world and to lead with kindness and acceptance. And the fact that every song is a catchy earworm doesn't hurt. The role of J.D. is one that I always dreamed of playing and (aside from the psycho killer aspect) is quite relatable to me. I've had to deal with many Ram and Kurt's in my lifetime and definitely can relate to being a social outcast.  

The role of JD is one of the most emotionally intense in musical theatre. How did you prepare for the role? And is it difficult to go to such a dark place for eight shows a week?

Yes it is quite a complex and emotional journey to go through every night. I prepared by studying traits and mannerisms of sociopaths and seeing which elements I could add to my characterization. I also tap into my inner child and self who was lost in middle school and high school at that point in my life; something that is difficult but I am able to use to my own benefit which I am okay with, and little Keelan would be okay with too, knowing the present circumstances. 

Did you draw any inspiration from previous portrayals of JD? The UK has had quite a few in recent years, but I'm going to make a bold statement here and say yours is the best we've ever had.

I would say my biggest influences from previous actors would be Christian Slater and Jamie Muscato. Slater's J.D. inspired me to be as slick and sickeningly sly as possible, while Muscato showed me just how dark, unhinged, and feral the role can really be. I appreciate your bold claim, I never thought anyone would ever say that, but many legends before me have made that title nearly impossible to fully claim.

Heathers the Musical has one of the most dedicated fanbases. How has the reception been from the Corn Nuts so far?

Absolutely incredible. Even before we had our first preview, the fans were rallying behind me and gave me the confidence to tackle the role and run. The Corn Nuts are truly special and I love them all.

If you could play any musical theatre role, regardless of age, gender or race - who would it be and why? I would love to see you as Orpheus in Hadestown...

My (other) dream role would have to be Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors". Very different to J.D., but more of the character I am used to playing. Low-status underdog full of heartfelt moments and comedy. And who doesn't love the Alan Menken music? I would love to be in "Hadestown" but I would have to start learning guitar! 

A question I ask everyone we chat to - my blog is called Stage to Page. But if you could turn any book, from page to stage, what would it be and why?

My go to answer would be "The Hobbit" but I've heard that a musical version is already in the works. Because of that, I will say the graphic novel "Kick-Ass". An action-packed teen superhero comedy that has a lot of heart. I actually think that Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy would be perfect writers for this project as well. They would really handle the raunchiness and comedy of it all, along with a punk rock-style score, I think they could nail it. 

And finally, why should anyone reading this book tickets to see the UK tour of Heathers the Musical?

Most theatre fans know of, or have seen Heathers before, but this venue, this cast, this crew, really have put something special together. I think that every member of this cast truly does something unique with the characters and choices are being made I don't think any cast has seen before. We have a TON of fun onstage every night and I think that translates to the audience as well. Whether you want a fun night out, or a piece of theatre that makes you think, please come out and give our show a chance!

You can catch Keelan McAuley on the West End and UK tour of Heathers the Musical, here.

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