You know when you wake up the next day singing the songs that you have seen a good musical. Those little ear worms working away overnight, doing what they do best and making sure the tunes continuously occupy our minds long into the next day and beyond. A great musical connects with its audience, involves them, allows them to care about the characters they are seeing and to become invested in what is happening to them regardless of the subject matter. THAT is exactly what ‘Heathers the Musical’ does. As a result, its high energy music, and quirky, easily memorable, witty book are fast developing a cult following.
Produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills, this high-octane black-comedy rock musical, based on one of the greatest cult teen films of all time, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, ‘Heathers the Musical’ previously enjoyed two record-breaking seasons in London, launching at The Other Palace and transferring to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2018. It is now back at Theatre Royal Haymarket for a strictly limited 12-week season from 22nd June – 11th September 2021.
For those not familiar with the ‘Heathers’ plotline, the musical follows Veronica Sawyer (Christina Bennington), a girl who is on the outside to the others at her school. She dreams optimistically about unity for all regardless of social standing. She longs for a time where all teenagers can live in perfect harmony at Westerberg High School. But, to make it safely through her high school years, she befriends the rulers (bullies) of the school, the three girls named Heather and at the same time catches the eye of the angst-ridden new boy, Jason J.D Dean (Luke Gage), who turns out to be a murderous psychopath. What follows is a rapid collapse of all things sensible with deaths, suicides, funerals, and a highly explosive amount of teenage destruction.
Of course, the show has its strong critics who will highlight the questionable plot line and subversive narrative, but let’s remember that this is a musical that is directed primarily to the younger teen audiences and is entirely in keeping with the styling of many teen tv shows and movies the world over. The truth is that with songs like “Seventeen” and “Candy Store” ‘Heathers the Musical’ instantly elevates the soul, making the musical soar, and bringing its audience on board regardless of age or susceptibility to be influenced by teen fiction!
The current cast bring this show to life with attractively lively and animated passion and talent. Leading the gang, Bennington offers up a powerhouse vocal performance and maintains a highly likeable and accomplished comedic timing throughout. Gage plays bad-boy J.D with an intensity that is fitting for the character, and the iconic roles of ‘The Heathers’ are revived by returning cast member Jodie Steele with her critically acclaimed portrayal of ‘mega bitch’ Heather Chandler, alongside the talented Bobbie Little as Heather Duke and gifted Frances Mayli McCann as Heather McNamara.
Jodie Steele steals the show and is just brilliant. Her comic genius timing, stage presence and perfect vocals make her perfect for this role and it was a pleasure to watch her perform with such ease. There are also several other stand out moments, McCann’s beautiful rendition of ‘Lifeboat’ is breath-taking and Lauren Ward’s hilarious ‘Shine a Light’ as High School Teacher Ms. Fleming is splendidly funny. However, the surprise of the night came from Madison Swan in her portrayal of Martha Dunnstock. Sure, this might be a minor, secondary character in this musical, a character who is relentlessly bullied throughout, but “wow” did this actress make her presence known to the audience. She delivered a truly heart-breaking moment in the song ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’. Such an accomplished vocalist who is one to watch and absolutely destined for bigger things.
The production is complimented by Ben Cracknell’s lighting which is highly effective at demonstrating there are the varying tones of light and shade between the different teenage characters. The Heathers are of course lit in their iconic red, green and yellow colours mirrored by vibrant costumes and stage design by David Shields.
Sure ‘Heathers the Musical’ approaches some of the delicate subject matter in a less than gentle manner but getting through those teenage years is a minefield and we all experienced a few unexpected explosions and with chillingly catchy tunes, quirky catch phrases and high levels of talent to knock your knee length socks off, this is a production that is guaranteed to be a great night out. Highly recommended. Not to be missed!
In parallel to the show’s return to the West End, the musical will also embark on its first tour of the UK and Ireland, in a separate production and cast, opening at Leeds Grand Theatre on 6th August 2021. Tickets are available at www.trh.co.uk/whatson/heathers-the-musical
Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 5th July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★