A musical version of Clueless without Christian? As if!
Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, the 1995 high school comedy was loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma and set in 1990s Beverly Hills. Alicia Silverstone led the homies as Cher Horowitz, a ditzy popular girl who likes playing matchmaker. Christian Stovitz, Cher’s stylish love interest, is ultimately revealed to be gay and famously described as a “friend of Dorothy.”
Heckerling has now adapted her beloved rom-com classic for the stage, a ragin’ party using ’90s pop songs with lyrical makeovers. The New Group’s Clueless, the Musical, headlined by Disney Channel darling Dove Cameron as Cher, is currently making its world premiere off-Broadway.
Scene-stealer Justin Mortelliti, also a proud FOD, spoke to NewNowNext about why being handed down Christian’s fedora has him totally buggin’.
Were you a fan of Clueless before getting cast in the musical?
I was a huge fan. When I was a kid, I saw Clueless at the movie theater twice, and I had the poster. I was too young to know much about myself yet, but seeing a gay character in a mainstream movie for the first time, especially one who was so cool, I remember watching in wonder and awe.
This gig must be a special thrill for you.
It really is. Christian’s kind of a gay icon. To be able to play him in the musical version that’s also written by Amy Heckerling, it’s so surreal and exciting.
And how cool to be in your 30s and still able to play a high schooler?
[Laughs] Hey, I am 16!
Christian feels more fleshed out in the musical version, don’t you think?
Oh, yeah, and I hope audiences feel that. It’s Cher’s story, but I’ve been able to dive into my role and make it honest, because I care for this character. Christian’s story is important to me. We hear about the bullying Christian dealt with at his old school, which could be why he moved to this new school. Christian feels safe with Cher, but she has a crush on him, so it’s complicated.
Christian finally comes out to Cher, and we also hear his inner struggle, set to the tune of “Bye Bye Bye.” What’s he going through during that number?
It comes to a boiling point on his date with Cher, where he realizes she likes him. He’s uncomfortable, so he has to leave. He cares for Cher and doesn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings, but he also needs to be honest with himself. So that song is about how he knows he has to tell her he’s gay, but he’s worried what it will be like at school. It’s also about Cher basically being the only one not getting it.
Did you ever have to break a clueless girl’s heart?
I was sort of a late bloomer, so in high school I had a lot of girlfriends—they had crushes on me, I had crushes on them. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized what a crush really feels like.
Your Christian also feels more sexualized than in the film. We see him flirting with guys.
Yeah, we actually added a bit at the end, a little love interest for Christian, that’s not in the movie. It was a last-minute addition during previews, and I’m very happy about that. It’s a nice little gift for him—and for any gay kids watching the show.
The musical cuts the film’s famous “disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy” line. Would that have come off as too derogatory in 2018?
Perhaps. Some lines were maybe funnier in the ’90s but may not work as well today. Amy chose what to keep from the original script and what to adjust, and she’s really smart, so there’s a reason for everything.
Did Amy share any insights about Christian that weren’t in the script?
Little bits, yeah. I also got to meet Ken Stovitz, Amy’s longtime agent, at our opening night party. He introduced himself and told me Christian was named after him. That was a cool insider experience.
What’s up with Christian’s Rat Pack vibe?
For me, he’s putting on a facade that a lot of gay youth put on, to feel more masculine or play some character when they aren’t yet comfortable in their own skin.
You’re really working those retro looks.
Thanks! Our costume designer, Amy Clark, is very skilled. When I came in for my first fitting, I was excited to see what she would give me for Christian, and she did not let me down. I have the best shoes, the best pants—it’s nice.
You get to play the coolest, sexiest, most stylish guy in the show. Has it gone to your head?
[Laughs] Absolutely not! I know that I am definitely acting.
Some Clueless movie stars have already attended the show, including Paul Rudd. What’s that been like?
Oh, my god. It’s very surreal to be standing next to Paul Rudd while he’s talking to Amy Heckerling about Brittany Murphy. I looked up to these people when I was a kid, and suddenly I’m in the story and they’re coming to visit? It’s awesome.
Do you think Justin Walker, who played Christian, will come?
I hope so. I would love to meet him, shake his hand, and just thank him. I actually tried looking for him on social media, but he doesn’t seem to be on there.
As gay actor playing a gay character, what’s your take on the argument that only LGBTQ actors should be cast in LGBTQ roles?
I’ve had agents, managers, say, “Keep your personal life personal, don’t be seen at these clubs, don’t post pictures with boyfriends, because you won’t get cast in straight roles.” I’ve been lucky that hasn’t affected me, but it’s a sad fact there are a lot of gay actors who can’t get straight roles because it’s known they’re gay. So I understand when people say gay roles should go to gay actors, because how many times are we missing out on straight roles? That said, I believe roles should go to the best actors. If I’m the best actor for a role, don’t not cast me because of my personal life. But if you’re a straight actor who’s a better fit for a gay role, then go play it and kill it for all of us.
Making your Broadway debut last year in Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville, you played half of a gay couple in the ensemble, which was subtle and unexpected. Whose idea was that?
Christopher Ashley, our director, and Kelly Devine, our choreographer. Julius [Anthony Rubio], the other half of the couple, and I got to create our own storyline onstage. We were all excited to have that be there but not be an extreme focus. It may have gone unnoticed except by the gay people in the audience, but it’s just nice to see us existing on stage without being a punchline. Jimmy Buffett was a huge supporter of it as well, which was awesome.
When did you decide to be out professionally?
I was a late bloomer, as I said, and being raised Catholic in New Jersey, it took a lot of personal experience, exploration, and self-care to shed the things we were taught in that religion and find my true heart. As that happened in my actual life, it happened in my professional life, where I stopped hiding things and became more comfortable speaking my truth. Visibility is everything, isn’t it? The more we’re normalized, the more narrow minds can open. Once I realized that, all my walls came down.
You and your fiancé, actor Mark Evans, have even done some press together, including a “Broadway First Dates” video for TheaterMania.
We’re as open as everyone should be. We think is love is awesome and we’re excited about ours. So if someone asks, yeah, we’re happy to talk about it.
Hopefully I’ll see wedding pics on Instagram soon.
Yeah! We’re getting the plans going now. Next September is the big day.
Clueless, the Musical runs through January 12 at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York.