REVIEW: Heathers The Musical (Theatre Royal Haymarket) ★★★★
Based on the 1989 black comedy film starring a young Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s Heathers The Musical premiered in Los Angeles in 2013. After selling out this initial run, the production transferred Off-Broadway in 2014 and received several Drama Desk Award nominations and cult following. In 2017 Heathers The Musical came to London in the form of a workshop at The Other Palace. This sold out run saw the original authors able to test new material and songs, asking for audience feedback after each performance. During these workshops the show changed each night presenting a world premiere at each performance. Earlier this year a full production was mounted at The Other Palace, also selling out quickly and has now transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket giving Heathers The Musical a long awaited West End production.
Cult musicals receive their loyal following with identifiable characters and situations, often championing the underdog or a group not represented in the mainstream. Rocky Horror allowed audiences to live their fantasies and true identities, Little Shop saw a geeky hero fall in love and battle a carnivorous plant from outer space and the Toxic Avenger saw a toxic green mutant fight the powers that be and triumph over evil. Just as these musicals spoke to groups that felt otherwise ostracised by society, Heathers speaks to a generation who say “your society churns out slaves and blanks – no thanks!” telling a story that opens conversations about bullying, teen suicide and violence in schools, Heathers revolves around Veronica Sawyer who shifts the social politics of her high school when she joins a clique (all of whom are named Heather) and falls for the Baudelaire-quoting new kid, Jason Dean (JD for short). Exploring empowerment and the vulnerability of relationships between friends, lovers, parents, teachers and school communities through a series of accidental murders, Veronica must decide where her loyalties lie and who is truly “beautiful.”
In the West End production Carrie Hope Fletcher plays Veronica and Jamie Muscato is Jason Dean. The Heathers are played by Jodie Steele, T’Shan Williams and Sophie Issacs as Chandler, Duke and McNamara respectively. Jenny O’Leary is Martha Dunnstock while Chris Chung and Dominic Anderson play Kurt and Ram #kram. As the formidable Heather Chandler, Jodie Steele shines a light. With a flawless vocals, Steele stole each scene she was in and her portrayal is every bit the “mythic bitch” her character’s described as in the opening number. Sophie Issacs as engagement ring fortune heiress Heather McNamara was a delight. Starting out the show as Heather Chandler’s minion, McNamara has the tables turned when she gets viciously bullied and attempts to commit suicide as a result. Issac’s portrayal is sensitive and nuanced, accumulating in an emotionally powerful lifeboat that had the audience in tears. T’Shan Williams as Heather Duke was a lot of fun. Seeing an opening she attempts to claim Heather Chandler’s place as queen bee in a song written for The Other Palace run of the show Never Shut Up Again. While energetically performed, I found it hard to decipher the words of this song compared with the other songs I didn’t already know. Snatching the mantle of “mythic bitch” Heather Duke remains defiant while the other characters start to accept each other for their various flaws, then quickly gives in. I feel a more nuanced performance could have expressed Duke’s changing mindset throughout the second half of the show to allow this character development not so abrupt. Proving that being the smartest guy on the football team is a lot like being the tallest dwarf, Chris Chung and Dominic Anderson play brutish jocks Kurt and Ram to perfection. Both parts hilarious and creepy, their You’re Welcome was a well-received replacement of original song Blue and I found Veronica’s use of self-defence in this scene empowering. Martha Dunnstock is a character everyone can identify with. Bullied and set-upon by the Heathers, Martha stays strong until her best friend seemingly turns against her and resulting tragedy strikes. Jenny O’Leary’s performance is very affecting and her vocal on Kindergarten Boyfriend a sprawling highlight of Act Two.
Carrie Hope Fletcher gives a note perfect performance as Veronica. Proving her vocal prowess is as strong as any leading lady on the West End currently, the new song written for this West End production I Say No is a powerful eleventh-hour number which she emotionally belts out to an adoring audience. Veronica and JD’s first encounter is when he quote’s Baudelaire at her and she call him out for it, “Don’t just quote Baudelaire at me and walk away”. Veronica’s bleak intellectual cynicism is something I admire most about the character. Veronica Sawyer starts the show an empowered woman separate from her peers, able to introduce the audience to each character in the show using wit and humour. I felt Fletcher played her more earnest and innocent than the character called for and I missed a more sassy and aware Veronica. Jamie Muscato as Jason Dean is nothing short of phenomenal. He accentuates the light and dark moments in his characters psyche and uses them to his advantage. Along for the ride with Veronica, the audience falls in love with his JD at the start of the show and soon realises how broken the character is. His vocal throughout the show is swoon worthy and I would argue the strongest overall performance of a male lead on the West End currently. Bravo!
The West End transfer of Heathers The Musical is everything fans of the cult musical could wish for. If you’re seeing the show for the first time, you’re in for such a treat! Transporting London from the Theatre Royal Haymarket to Westerberg High, audiences can expect a fun night out at the theatre, a witty script with catchy songs tackling some dark issues. Come to the Candy Store and Freeze Your Brain, Heathers The Musical is Beautiful.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography