Based on the 1989 Cult film of the same name written by Daniel Walters, Heathers the Musical with its shocking moments makes you question if the story in today’s society, isn’t as unfortunately, subversive or extreme as it once was. The musical being a camp, comedic tribute to the film it has also gained the same cult following, with numerous chequered school skirts in the audience as proof. Book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence o’Keefe and directed by Andy Fickman, the plot races you through a ride of nonstop twists and turns and doesn’t give you time to catch your breath. The toxic Westerberg High School hierarchy where the Heathers (the ‘It’ girls) rule, dictate and manipulate, keep their own kind of order and the rest of the school live in awe and fear of them. The Heathers recruit Veronica as their new ‘bitch in training’, although actually why is never really explained other than one act of kindness. As they systematically humiliate Veronica, she seeks revenge but disturbingly her misfit boyfriend JD, in his dark raincoat takes the revenge too far. After one Heather dies, who will be next? Throughout, we never lose connection with Veronica’s character as the culpability is firmly laid at JD’s feet. No more spoilers!
The set is mediocre at best and mainly representational in nature with movement by the cast. But the Punk Rock score is a highlight of the musical with delicious numbers such as Candy Store, Dead Girl Walking, and I say No whose lyrics are as cutting as the razor-sharp melodies. However, the band occasionally drowned out the lyrics of the soloist.
Veronica Sawyer is played by Rebecca Wickes who has an amazing singing voice and the comedic acting ability to completely hold the audience and command the stage throughout. She really is an exceptional talent. The duet work with Simon Gordon as JD has a beautiful blend and they really do sound exquisite together. Gordon plays his character with real flair, just enough unhinged menace to unsettle the audience but never in the realms of characture like many of the other characters.
Maddison Firth as lead Heather, Heather Chandler is every bit the cruel dictator with soaring vocals, cuttingly slick dialogue and her often comedic genius is fully highlighted by the reactions on stage. Heather Duke played by Merryl Ansah really comes into her own in the second Act as she replaces the dead Heather Chandler. Lizzy Parker as the third Heather, Heather McNamara is the more likeable character, and she plays this to perfection.
The hapless Kurt and Ram, (Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan) are the epitome of the football jocks and very watchable not least for their interpretation of some clear choreography by Gary Lloyd which with its high energy, matches the fierce ensemble. A mention must go to the striking 15-minute opening number which sets the bar and packs a real punch.
Mhaira Angus as Martha ‘Dumptruck’ is wonderful in role and adds warming moments of pathos to the storyline. A special mention must go with their multiple roles but particularly, Andy Brady as Kurt’s Dad and Kurt Kansley as Ram’s Dad, as they bring the house down with their PRIDE driven rendition of My Dead Gay Son. Now here is my problem whilst some of the handling of the issues works there are some quite unsettling references to mental health, sexual assault, suicide and bulimia with is sometimes haphazardly and maybe too lightly handled and definitely above the PG guidance. Is this appropriate for a young impressionable audience in today’s society? I am not convinced it is.
Heathers, in my opinion although a crowd pleaser, misses its mark and lays bizarrely somewhere between the musicals of Legally Blonde with its light fluffy pinkness and dark red shades of Carrie. The cast are stronger than the vehicle and give everything admirably in performance to rescue this plot. I question, is this musical a juxtaposition too far?
Playing at Sheffield Lyceum until the 18th September with tickets available at https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/heathers
Reviewer: Tracey Bell
Reviewed: 14th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★