Teenage years – the best years of your life? Not for those attending Westerberg High School in Heathers The Musical! This is no saccharine sweet teenage musical; Heathers addresses hard-hitting themes including murder, suicide, date rape and bulimia. Is this a gloom – fest? Certainly not! Heathers is a life lesson, a gloriously darkly comic look at the teenage quest for popularity and acceptance.
Opening night at the exquisite Palace Theatre and it is clear to see from the scrunchies and tartan in the audience that Heathers has a devoted following. Based on the eponymous 1988 cult film, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, Heathers The Musical moved Off-Broadway in 2014. After an Off-West End run Heathers transferred to the West End in 2018. In 2019, Heathers The Musical won the Best New Musical award at London’s Whatsonstage.com Awards.
The rapturous applause as the God-like trio of Heathers entered the stage for the first time confirmed that this musical has a firm fan base. Verity Thompson was perfectly cast as the intimidating Heather Chandler. Thompson portrayed the vindictive, spiteful personality of the chief Heather, whilst dominating the stage with spell-binding vocals. Thompson convincingly conveyed the different elements of Heather Chandler’s personality which varied between malicious bully when alive, to a gloating, jubilant idol, beyond the grave.
The trio was completed by Elise Zavous as Heather Duke, and Billie Bowman as Heather McNamara. Zavous has a striking, confident presence on stage which convinced the audience that Heather Duke was suitably menacing and malicious. Bowman showed off stunning vocals in the goose-bump inducing solo ‘Lifeboat’. Bowman demonstrated first-rate acting capabilities in this number, as the distinction between an intimidating aggressor and a vulnerable, scared child was perfectly presented.
The incredibly gifted actor Jacob Fowler was a joy to watch as the enigmatic Jason ‘JD’ Dean. Fowler’s facial expressions and mannerisms were a masterclass in acting – Fowler simultaneously charmed and chilled the audience in fear. Fowler’s hypnotising vocals hooked the audience in the solo ‘Freeze Your Brain’. Fowler as JD was the embodiment of a seductive psychopath – the last person a parent would like their teenager to befriend!
Jenna Innes as Veronica Sawyer commanded the stage from the off. Innes’ vocals were strong and a match for the three Heathers. Innes’ superb acting meant that the shift between vulnerable misfit and confident, yet confused teenager was believable. Innes’ impeccable comic timing brought light relief in the most harrowing moments.
Alex Woodward as Kurt Kelly, and Morgan Jackson as Ram Sweeney, showed excellent physicality in the slow-motion fight scene. Cleverly, they brought humour in the darkest of scenes.
Kingsley Morton as Martha Dunnstock, impressed with beautiful vocals during ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’, fostering further sympathy and admiration from the audience towards Martha’s wholesome character.
A strong cast (including Kate Paine as Ms Fleming) provided great characterisation. There were many beautiful harmonies, most notably in the final number ‘Seventeen (Reprise)’.
The scene changes were seamless. Lighting design by Ben Cracknell was incredibly effective, particularly when highlighting the Heathers’ lofty status in school.
The band, under the Musical Direction of Will Joy were truly phenomenal. At times the sound balance meant that the band overpowered some of singing resulting in moments of storytelling lost, however, this did not impact greatly on the overall enjoyment of the show. The final, well-deserved, standing ovation showed the audience’s approval.
With book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe this high-energy musical certainly entertains and delights.
Captivating, cruel, yet disarmingly charming Heathers will leave you sparkling with joy!
Well done to all involved and best of luck for the remainder of the tour.
Reviewer: Emma Wild
Reviewed: 8th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: