Q&A with the Stars of “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends”

On Wednesday, June 21st, I experienced a new Off-Broadway musical called “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends,” which played at The Players Theatre through July 16th. I knew very little going into the show, but I am never one to turn down an original musical. From the creative set, the hysterical and moving performances, to the catchy and clever music, I was sold. And I was so blown away by the talented actors playing the three best friends, that I simply had to hear more from them on their involvement. I reached out to Zoe Dean, Heather Sawyer, and Alia Cuadros-Contreras, who played Madison, Stella, and Gracie, respectively, for background on their roles, the show’s origins and meaningful messages, and more!

The Trouble with Dead BoyfriendsFrom left to right: Heather Sawyer Zoe Dean, and Alia Cuadros-Contreras

Tell us a little bit about “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends” and your involvement with the project.

Zoe: Hello there! My name is Zoe Dean, and I performed the role of “Madison” (or Madi) in “The Trouble With Dead Boyfriends” 2023 Off-Broadway run. The show is about a trio of childhood best friends (Stella, Madi, and Grace) who have been planning the “Perfect Prom,” and picturing their “Perfect Highschool Boyfriends” for what feels like forever. Now that they are seniors, and prom is approaching quickly, we see them come face-to-face with very heartbreaking, yet very real problems that most young women go through (specifically with men) because of the pressure society puts on us to be “perfect.” Not only is their friendship at stake, but their lives are as well. In the end, we see them overcome (well… kill) their extremely terrible and toxic boyfriends, make peace with the fact that perfection is impossible, and realize that nothing is better than the love from those who truly care about you.

Heather: Hello! My name is Heather Sawyer. I had the pleasure of portraying Stella in the Off-Broadway run of TWDB. I also served as the fight captain/choreographer! The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends is the story of three high school girls fighting against not only their toxic, dead boyfriends, but their own inner bad guys. Each of them are discover the harsh reality of the men they wished for as kids, and learns that what you wish for often isn’t what you pictured. They each also go through a true coming-of-age arc facing the things that make them feel the smallest. Whether we’re looking at Stella’s relationship with her body, Grace’s fear of being herself, or Madison’s struggle to find stability, each of them discovers that the way through is together.

Alia: “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends” is a musical about a group of friends and their journey to discover what love is really about. I played Grace in the show!

The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends

What was the inspiration behind “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends”? Can you share any insights into the creative process and how the concept evolved from its initial idea to the fully realized musical we see on stage?

Zoe: The show has been in development with the original production team for a few years now, so when I came into the process the show was pretty fully realized. Taking inspiration from past productions, and collaboration with the new cast, it evolved into something fresh and relevant for the 2023 audience!

Heather: Although I wasn’t present for conception, I’d love to take this as an opportunity to praise our writing team, Annie and Alex, for sharing so much insight with the cast! They were so open in the process to hearing our questions, and ideas, and created a truly collaborative space. Their rich development of the show really allowed us to confidently play and experiment and fail with a magnificent flourish during rehearsals, and this made the performances all that much more meaningful.

Alia: As actors, we did our best to approach the entire show from a truthful, honest place. In that way, both the comedy is able to land and the darker moments are allowed to take up the space they need.

The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends

The show effectively blends humor with serious topics like abusive relationships. How
did the team work together to ensure that these themes were handled sensitively while still maintaining the comedic tone of the musical?

Zoe: There was this beautiful level of trust and safety I felt with my cast and crew that really helped in tackling the serious themes of this piece with a great sense of care. We, as a cast, were also constantly having discussions throughout the process that revolved around the subject matter, what it all meant to us, how to take care of one another, and how to go about it all in a loving/informative way.

Heather: Communication and intention is the only way to blend these two things successfully. We were set up for success in the writing and we were able to confidently confirm with the team what each moment was meant to be. When you are doing any show, comedy, or drama, I always think about the truth of the story and character first. The laughs and the pain hit harder with the presence of the other. We approached the story for the trio from a place of honesty, because the show on the page is hilarious and we knew the laughs would come!

Alia: The audience seemed to really enjoy the dance battle between Grace and her ghost boyfriend which ends in her exorcising him. I think people loved to see her take back her power and autonomy.

The Trouble with Dead BoyfriendsCan you share a standout moment or scene from the show that has been particularly resonating with audiences?

Zoe: I feel like the scenes/songs, “Stella’s Ick,” and, “Grace’s Ick,” really resonated with the audiences because of how it highlights the many fears and insecurities that most humans face on a day-to-day basis (Body image, self-worth, intelligence, etc.). It made the characters feel even more real and relatable which helped the audience sink deeper into the story.

Heather: There are a few moments that audiences reached out about. The most impactful for me were the ones made by people who have been socialized as female. Countless people would approach the trio after the show saying that they saw themselves in each of us and felt so heard and seen. They recounted how they had major breakups over boys like ours before intermission, or that they wished they could have made up with each other the way Grace and Stella do at prom. The one review I will keep in my heart forever was made by a woman who reached out to me via my website. There was a day when I was stuck in the subway on the way to the show and met a woman on the platform while waiting for the next train. She and I began talking about what we were late for and I shared info about the show. She ended up coming that weekend and reached out after explaining that she had just been in an adult version of Madi’s relationship. She said that the show reminded her that she had sisters in arms and the speech I made at the curtain call was a reminder that the universe sent me to her for this message.

Alia: The audience seemed to really enjoy the dance battle between Grace and her ghost boyfriend which ends in her exorcising him. I think people loved to see her take back her power and autonomy. 

The music in “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends” adds so much to the storytelling and
the humor. Can you talk about how the songs were crafted to enhance the comedic
elements while also conveying important messages, such as the empowering idea of
exorcising demons in one’s life? Is there a particular song or lyric that resonates
strongly with you in this regard?

Zoe: Alex Petti, the amazing lyricist of the show, did such an incredible job at creating the score. It is filled with so much emotional and physical range, and the witty yet deep lyrics really add to how one can respectively approach serious themes with a comedic tone. The song “Zombaby” resonates the strongest with me in this regard. Yes, it’s a funny/ridiculous song, but ultimately it’s a very dark moment in the show. And I feel without the comedic tone, it just wouldn’t hit the audience as hard as it should. The audience finds themselves laughing, but then immediately feels terrible for laughing, which I feel evokes a stronger message.

Heather: My favorite lyric in the show is “When we fight monsters we do it together”. It’s a beautiful reminder that we can lean on those we love to fight our monsters and even if it’s just the knowledge that you have your two besties in your corner when you are killing your high school sweetheart with a machete.

Alia: One of the most ridiculous and simultaneously tragic lyrics is “I don’t want to stab this blade through your eyehole and into your skull. I know you still love me somewhere inside. Take my hand, let me save you.”

What is the main takeaway or message that you hope audiences will experience and
remember from their time watching “The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends”? How do you
believe this story can resonate with a wide range of viewers?

Zoe: YOU DESERVE BETTER!! That goes for the way others treat you and how you treat yourself. Also, perfection is impossible! Life is not meant to be planned, and it’s definitely not meant to be “perfect”. Embrace the rollercoaster, and just flow with the ups and downs. I believe this story will resonate with a wide range of viewers because no matter who you are or where you are in life, we are all just longing to be seen and loved. But “The Trouble With Dead Boyfriends” reminds us that if we express gratitude for the unconditional love we already have around and within us, we will find that what we’ve been searching for has been there the whole time.

Heather: This is the story of true unconditional love. Madison, Grace, and Stella are examples of what happens to women and girls when they are told that the love of a man dictates their worth and trumps their relationship with each other. I would love for every person watching the show or even hearing about the show to know you are not alone. Whether it’s a lifelong friend, a person you’ve known for a few months, or the actors and creators of this show, there are always people ready to help you exorcise anyone who treats you less than you deserve out of your life! And like the love of Madison, Grace, and Stella, there are loves that will truly be forever.

Alia: I hope audiences left feeling empowered to stand up for themselves and “exorcise” some less-than-great people out of their lives. I think most of us have been in situations where we know we deserved better and I hope this show inspired audiences to do something about that. And to trust that they don’t have to do it alone.

Gemma Lolos

Social Media Manager + Staff Writer

Gemma Lolos is a fiercely proud native New Yorker who is devoted to the arts in all its many forms. She loves to sing and listen to music, read great literature, experience inspiring theatre and film, and stream addictive television. She works full-time as a Marketing professional in New York City and does freelance writing on the side. In her free time, Gemma tries to immerse herself in the NYC Arts scene as much as possible, eat great food, and travel whenever she is able.

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