Lilly Nicholls reviews Heathers the Musical, playing at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 13 November.
The show opens with the sharp musical number ‘Beautiful’ which unveils the microcosm of high school life. No matter when you grew up you will recognise these types from your own school days; sporty jocks, preppy girls, beleaguered geeks, party girls, stoner kids, drama club drama queens and of course, the titular characters, our trio of devilish Heathers, all of them feared and worshipped, but none more so than the ring-leader Heather Chandler, with Heathers Duke and McNamara firmly under her thumb.
The show’s main protagonist is our anti-hero Veronica Sawyer. Rebecca Wickes has big boots to fill in this role, which has previously been played by Wynona Ryder on screen and Carrie-Hope Fletcher in the West-End; Wickes delivers big time! With powerful vocals, hilarious body language and a glorious cackling laugh. Our secondary protagonist comes in the form of poetic and brooding JD who entwines Veronica in his twisted sense of righteousness. The two fumble their way through a killing spree as JD tries to rid the world of anyone who dares step in the path of their love, singing “they’ll all disappear, we’ll plant our garden here”, while Veronica pleads to be a nice, normal, non-murdering teen in the song ‘Seventeen’. She deeply believes life can be beautiful without the body count.
Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth) is the first to be despatched by Veronica and JD’s twisted antics, but gone is not forgotten as she continues to appear on stage in dream sequences and in Veronica’s dark thoughts, still a dreadful bully even in the afterlife, but oddly likable.
Heather Duke (Meryl Ansah) has her moment in the spotlight after Chandler’s death, taking over as primary Heather and head bully, she performs her song ‘Never shut up again’ during which there is a fantastic costume change as her green ensemble is ripped away revealing Chandler’s red outfit, but Duke’s green stockings and shoes remain, symbolising she will never truly be number one Heather.
Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker) has her moment much later, showing her sensitive side with the beautifully moving song ‘Lifeboat’ which isn’t received exactly as she had hoped, leading to her fleeing the stage in tears having been ridiculed by Heather Duke.
I can imagine fans of the movie may be disappointed by this show as its reimagining by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy brings a much more light-hearted appeal. What was originally a dark commentary on society becomes a witty comic strip, the 80’s aesthetic of the movie is replaced with timeless set and costumes, plot points are rearranged and character dynamics tinkered with, all set to a rockish soundtrack with cheesy lunch tray-ography reminiscent of High School Musical – just my cup of tea, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
The world has changed so much since 1989 when Heathers first came out in the form of a black-comedy movie, so you might think this glossy musical dealing with hard hitting issues such as teen suicide, eating disorders and a high school massacre wouldn’t exactly be comfortable viewing…and comfortable it is not! But it certainly isn’t grotesque, offensive or brutal. Every powerful shock is delivered with ticklish satire.
The audience was a mixed bag of true 80’s babies and millennial cult movie fans bedecked in tartan cosplay and, like every show I’ve attended post-lockdown, the ovation was positively rapturous, I don’t know if or when the shine will wear off, I hope it never does!
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