Written by Sebastian Petit
Heathers The Musical, based on the iconic film with Christian Slater and Winona Rider, has taken 4 years to travel from Off Broadway to the West End but it was worth the wait. Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s pitch-black musical may be nominally a period piece, but the themes remain tragically relevant. In an era when the US Republican Party place higher value on the money they receive from the NRA than on the lives of students and the tragic litany of school shooting remains unabated, despite the efforts of the politicians who retain a moral compass, the events of Heathers The Musical kick home just as forcefully as in the 1980’s. Equally relevant in the time of #metoo is the attention paid to sexual bullying and date-rape.
Set to a pulsating rock score and requiring both range and huge stamina from all its cast, especially the central role of Veronica, the work rocks the rafters of the legendary Theatre Royal, more used to the warhorses of drama than guitars and drums. The show, even more than the movie, centres squarely on the character of Veronica linking many of the scenes with spoken diary excerpts. Since the off-west end UK premiere Carrie Hope-Fletcher has made the role her own. Singing with unstinting power and acting with depth and sensitivity she manages to make one forget Ryder’s extraordinary performance. She also has a nice line in side-eye comedy appropriate to the role’s semi-narrative function.
Jamie Muscato has played the role of JD since the workshop premiere in 2017 – he treads a fine line between the abused child and the crazed killer and never entirely forfeits our sympathy. With his ever-present black coat, he bears an uncomfortable and, no doubt, intentional resemblance to the Columbine killers. The musical slightly softens the final denouement with JD intentionally removing the bomb from the school before blowing himself to smithereens.
As the toxic trio of Heathers Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs and T’Shan Williams provide another strand of black comedy to the mix. It’s a brilliant idea to keep Steele’s Heather Chandler as furious, ghostly commentator after her death half way through the first act and she provides some of the best laughs of the evening. The script nicely gauges the peeling away of each of the trio’s layers revealing their insecurities and unexpected vulnerability.
Dominic Anderson and Chris Chung provide a hilariously dumb duo of jocks as Ram and Kurt who are entirely undeservedly sanctified as Gay Rights icons after they meet their untimely ends at the hands of JD. (There is a significant change from the movie where Veronica kills Kurt) The opening funeral number in which their apparently rampantly homophobic dads unexpectedly out themselves ‘My Dead Gay Son’ is one the highlights of the evening.
The very hard-working ensemble directed by Andy Fickman excel in a variety of roles and they are backed up by a first-rate band concealed behind the set. The adaptable set works well for the numerous locations though some of the changes feel a mite clunky. The excellent lighting by Ben Cracknell and admirably crystal-clear sound by Dan Simpson both add immeasurably to the evening’s success. My sole criticism is that the evening (especially the first act) feels overlong – losing a couple of numbers per act would tighten what is already a formidably accomplished show.
Heathers The Musical is showing now at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24 November. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to London Box Office website, here.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith.
Header image: Jodie Steele as Heather Chandler, Carrie Hope Fletcher as Veronica Sawyer, TShan Williams as Heather Duke and Sophie Isaacs as Heather McN. (Photography by Pamela Raith)
Sebastian Petit works full time in technical theatre but his lifelong obsession is classical music especially grand opera. Follow him on now Twitter: