REVIEW: Heathers the Musical, New Victoria Theatre

The musical based on the 1980’s film has plenty of bite – but yet somehow some of the songs distract from the grittiness of the storyline.

(c)Pamela Raith Photography

Confession time: the film Heathers has completely passed me by and this stage adaptation (which is currently also running in London as well as this UK tour) I simply have not had time to catch thus far. Now that I have – was it worth the wait?

In many ways yes – I loved the way in which the darker aspects of the story are covered by the bright colours of the costumes and set to give the show two very different layers as Veronica and JD go down a dark path to handle the popular bullies at Westerberg High. The sense of drama that comes through Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s book really captures the underlying nastiness that exists at the centre of the story, with the tension being effectively built as J.D. in particular takes matters into his own hands. However, on the flip side of this while I understand that the musical deals with some big issues such as suicide – I did feel uncomfortable at the viciousness of the language being used at times. I completely understand that this is down to the direction that the story takes, but in an era where we are told to be kind and be aware of people’s emotional well-being it feels just a little out of touch.

However, I do understand the appeal of this musical (particularly for a younger audience), with its characters (types of which we have all run into while at secondary school) and solid score by Murphy and O’Keefe that has plenty of edge to fit the story as heard on numbers such as ‘Candy Store’ and ‘Beautiful’, but also gives characters emotional depth as heard during the lovely ‘Seventeen’ or poignant ‘Lifeboat’. However, on occasion (particularly in the second act), it feels as though some of the songs acts more like a distraction from the build up to the climax to the story which is a shame as the ending is a powerful one. There is certainly nothing else like Heathers the Musical around and is in its own way bold.

A lot of the appeal also lies in the fact that it is so completely over the top that it can’t fail to draw you in – it actually brought to mind films featuring teenage high schools that I used to watch as a teenager including Mean Girls (again plenty of bite – but less death). It has a razor sharp humour that can make you wince in places, but the way in which it is delivered by the cast is brilliant.

Jenna Innes as Veronica is superb as a teenager trying to navigate high school – torn between wanting to protect herself from the bullies and wanting to help best friend Martha. She really captures the character’s sense of anguish as things between her and JD spiral out of control. Vocally, she has great depth and range as can be heard on ‘Dead Girl Walking’. She is also well matched with Jacob Fowler as the mysterious and brooding JD -who highlights the complexities of his character well, helped with a backstory that really could have been explored further. Verity Thompson is wonderfully confident as Heather Chandler, while Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson as Kurt and Ram add a great sense of humour -really embracing their roles.

Heathers the Musical does an effective job of sweeping you into a world of teenage angst and the pressure to be popular that will be relatable to anyone who has been a teenager – but can sometimes lose its way plot wise and take away from the grittiness of the story being told.

By Emma Clarendon

Heathers the Musical continues to play at the New Victoria Theatre until the 11th March before continuing to tour.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

%d bloggers like this: