Heathers the Musical has gained something of a cult following since its debut Off-Broadway in 2014, moving to the UK’s West End in 2018. It’s easy to see why - colour-coded queen bee bullies, a brooding bad boy and a musical number called My Dead Gay Son that manages to be both vibrant and dark at the same time...
The love for Heathers the Musical is still going strong, evidenced by the number of audience members in the iconic red, yellow and green blazer-and-socks combos sported by the titular Heathers. However, die-hard fans of the film should take the musical as an entirely separate entity. It follows the same beats as the 1988 classic it’s inspired by, but - as many stage adaptations do - takes creative licence with some characterisation and plot, especially in the second act.
There are strong voice performances from the main cast, but sadly they’re often overpowered by the music. Eleanor Walsh as Veronica (a late cast replacement for Jenna Innes) clearly has some pipes on her, most notably in Dead Girl Walking and I Say No, but at times it feels like she’s shouting to be heard over the band.
Taken separately, the music and vocals are fantastic, but they seem to struggle to gel together on stage. The bigger group numbers are certainly a lot of fun and visually stunning (Candy Store, Big Fun) but the voice talent is best appreciated during some of the quieter solo numbers that build slowly (Lifeboat performed by Billie Bowman as Heather McNamara and Kindergarten Boyfriend from Kingsley Morton as Martha Dunnstock).
Jacob Fowler is picture perfect as the jaded outcast and main love interest Jason ‘JD’ Dean. From the way he swishes his long dark coat about the stage to his over-educated drawl, he absolutely nails the dangerous line between love and self-justified violence. His number Freeze Your Brain is a stand out performance that you can truly get lost in.
Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson as jocks Kurt and Ram are responsible for a lot of the laughs from the audience, their bro-heavy chemistry pouring off the stage. Verity Thompson as Heather Chandler exudes the confidence, superiority and general disdain that comes with being the head Heather - but Thompson also manages to find the funny, throwing looks at the audience and gleefully mocking Veronica as her world spirals.
It’s probably worth reiterating that this is a musical both set in and inspired by American high school in the '80s - expect a lot of outdated terms and attitudes towards subjects like being gay, eating disorders and suicide as the musical tries to stay true to it’s source material. For some, this might feel out of place in 2023 - for others, it can be seen as a product of its time that highlights how far we’ve come since then.
And for others still, it’s simply a campy, colourful piece of theatre that has clearly struck a chord with audiences who love to dress in the Heathers’ colours and tie back their hair in an iconic scrunchie.
Heathers the Musical plays at Nottingham Theatre Royal from Wednesday 30 August to Saturday 2 September 2023.
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