Review: Heathers makes you realise why you’ve missed musical theatre

Photo: Pamela Raith
Like the film, this musical is playful, very funny and knowing and has the songs, sass, wit and chutzpah to win you over
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Heathers began life as a late 1980s cult film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. This deliciously dark film looked like another High School flick on the surface.

And it does deal with the usual teen film tropes of bullying, cliques, fitting in and trying to be popular.

But it adds murder to the mix, playing around with the traditional and extremely popular John Hughes type film scenario and injecting it with a sense of rebellion and pushing the boundaries with surreal humour.

Photo: Pamela Raith

Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe saw something refreshing in this film, and they manage to capture the spirit of it but also to adhere to the codes and conventions of the stage musical with their wonderfully witty book and lyrics.

Rebecca Wickes plays Veronica Sawyer, and this is the character who sits in the middle at school.

She is sick of the hierarchy, which we are used to on screen – the princesses and the jocks rule the school.

In this case, the school is essentially run by the Heathers – three girls led by Heather Chandler (played with relish by Maddison Firth) – and if you are on the outside, you will never get in.

Until…. Veronica is offered a makeover by these bitches of Eastwick to make her ‘beautiful’, as a thank you for forging some hall passes. This now means Veronica is in the inner circle.

Photo: Pamela Raith

Enter the tall, dark and mysterious teen who does not play by the rules – J.D Dean (played by Simon Gordon), and Veronica finds herself spinning out of control towards him.

But is there more to J.D than meets the eye? Does he have murder in mind?

Like the film, this musical is playful, very funny and knowing.

If you have watched most teen movies set in high schools from The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink through to Some Kind of Wonderful, and even though you loved them, you longed for something darker or you just appreciate the fact that Heathers respects the genre but mixes it up, then there is something for you here.

Photo: Pamela Raith

Murphy and O’Keefe’s songs have strong hooks and melodies and enough contemporary references and nods to keep you smiling.

Candy Store sees Maddison Firth strutting across the stage like Christina Aguilera in her heyday, and You’re Welcome is instantly memorable and will be running though your brain on the way home.

Merryl Ansah (Heather Duke) delivers Never Shut Up Again as the silenced girl who is ready to step out of the shadows, and she makes you want to shut up and dance.

My favourite song is Seventeen as it manages to capture those feelings of fitting in and wanting to be treated like an adult, even though you feel like a child.

Rebecca Wickes gives it her all in this number as she begs her boyfriend to stop killing, so that they can live a normal teenage life. It is way too late for that, but Wickes delivers this song so well that her voice hits the gallery and beyond and it is genuinely moving.

She works well with Simon Gordon (great as the angry emo) and they have great chemistry and their voices blend together beautifully.

Photo: Pamela Raith

Lizzy Parker also has vivacious vocals and you can hardly believe this is her professional stage debut.

Mhairi Angus also makes her professional musical theatre debut, yet watching her stood on the huge balcony connecting with every member of the audience as she sings the brilliant Kindergarten Boyfriend with ease, again you are watching a real pro.

Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan make a great pair as sports jocks Kurt and Ram, as they begin the show as stereotypes and become poster boys for the LGBTQ+ community via the South Park-sounding song My Dead Gay Son – which is funny and also life affirming.

There are some flaws, the first act has all of the surprises and the pace is fast moving and the performances are filled with energy.

In the second half, many of the show’s big players become bit parts and there is some repetition, as the plot starts to go round in circles.

David Shields’ set design feels very limited, in that the focus is on the school. So, when we see Veronica at home, she is often just stood outside of the huge school.

But, these are minor flaws as Heathers has the songs, sass, wit and chutzpah to win you over.

Photo: Pamela Raith

With the film version of the stage musical Dear Evan Hansen set to hit cinema screens soon, looking strangely creepy and the trailer is filled with the sound of feel-good lyrics and sweet natured cloying scenes of acceptance, Heathers is refreshingly different and subverts much of what you are used to.

The excellent cast make you want to be in their gang, every single person on stage makes you realise why you have missed musical theatre.

My advice? Lick it up, Baby, Lick it Up and book a ticket.

Heathers is at the Palace Theatre until 9th October. Tickets are available here.

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