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  • Chris O'Rourke

Heathers The Musical

Heathers The Musical. Image uncredited.


High school rules, and no one rules high school quite like Heathers. Westerberg High School that is. Where its sassy strutting, mallet wielding mean girls reign supreme. Knee high socks, hip high skirts, these bully babes determine who’s cool and who's the fool. Get on their wrong side, like innocent Martha Dunnstock, and prepare to be publicly body shamed. Get on their right side, like sycophantic Veronica Sawyer, and your popularity will take you through high school. But at what cost? With book and music by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, Heathers The Musical reimagines Daniel Waters 1989 cult movie Heathers for the 21st century. Getting its 80s on as Veronica grows from ass kisser to ass kicker in one the best ass kicking musicals of recent years. Featuring what's destined to become one of the great musical show stoppers of all time.

Jenna Innes and Jacob Fowler in Heathers The Musical. Image uncredited.

From the get go, director Andy Frickman wastes no time. A smart opening number, Beautiful, followed by, Candy Store, gets backstory out of the way and events up and running. Married to Gary Lloyd’s smart and succinct choreography, the trials and tribulations of high school are visually writ large. As are its characters. Or rather, stock types. Awkward geeks, brainless jocks, hippie teachers and well meaning parents; this is American High School 101. Through a dear diary device Veronica addresses the audience about wanting to be popular, like the three Heathers; Heather Duke, Heather McNamara and the fearsome Heather Chandler. So vicious she’d give the Wicked Witch of the West nightmares. Forging a note that saves the Heathers from detention sees Veronica become their latest recruit. Catching the eye of football stars Kurt and Ram, and the mysterious loner J.D. A party, a cruel set up, followed by a few twists and turns and soon dead bodies, and their ghosts, start to pile up.

Verity Thompson, Jenna Innes, Elise Zavou and Billie Bowman in Heathers The Musical.Image uncredited.

If the second act slows down, it shows considerable bravery sacrificing narrative momentum for greater depth. A move which gives Heathers The Musical bite in addressing homophobia, eating disorders, suicide, abusive parents, betrayal, violence, needing to belong, needing to be redeemed, feeling overwhelmed, lonely and objectified all at seventeen. The list of high school horrors goes on. Many addressed via superb solos which allow characters like Kingsley Morton’s beautifully realised Martha, or Billie Bowman’s bulimic Heather McNamara to shine. If not every song is musically memorable, its punch is often keenly felt in performance. Working towards an explosive finish, the dark comedy allows us to laugh in the dark so we can better face what’s hidden there. If the end resembles a tacked on happy ever after, lacking the unapologetic brazenness of the movie, its a concession you’re likely to get caught up in. By then you’ve already seen the grit; Veronica’s conflicted Fight For Me, her seizing of her sexual moment, or the fabulous My Dead Gay Son. The latter delivered with such oomph and style you’ve already received double your money’s worth for that one song alone. Like The Time Warp, this irreverent hunk of musical gorgeousness sizzles with largeness and life.

Katie Paine (centre) and cast in Heathers The Musical. Image uncredited

One of the many myths surrounding musical theatre is that it’s a glamorous life. In truth, there are few jobs more demanding. In that regard, Heathers The Musical features one of the hardest working crews out there. Indeed, its young cast, many relatively recent graduates, are exemplary. Verity Thompson’s Heather Chandler shows impressive range, musically and vocally, being especially brilliant in her haunting phase. Elise Zavou’s Heather Duke switches seamlessly from trampled upon to tyrant. Billie Bowman’s Heather McNamara proves a little scene stealer, giving a nuanced and detailed performance. If Alex Woodward’s Kurt and Morgan Jackson’s Ram look like dumb eye candy, it takes a lot of work to look that dumb. Not that it all lands perfectly. Charmingly endearing at times, Jacob Fowler’s J.D. is not quite the James Dean bad boy he needs to be. All trauma no threat, J.D. might capture the depth of his emotion for Veronica, but his all damage no danger persona never quite convinces as an attraction. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he faces an uphill struggle even if ultimately J.D. crosses the finish line without sliding into being a Columbine styled creep. Meanwhile, Jenna Innes gives a commanding performance as Veronica. Owning every note, every word or gesture, every inch of space, Innes, along with Bowman and Thompson, look like stars in the making.

Heathers The Musical. Image uncredited

A glorious neon car crash, Heathers The Musical doesn’t try compete with the movie. Rather, it channels its influence, paying homage without cowing down. Throughout, countless teen movie references, as well as a head nod towards Smells Like Teen Spirit, sees Heathers The Musical acknowledging the 80s as a jumping off point before jumping off. Its heady mix of hard edged, teenage themes and John Hughes styled nostalgia making for the perfect cocktail. It may not hit quite like the movie, but in our cancel culture, school shooting climate, it shows more bite and bravery than many of its contemporaries. The show you didn’t know you needed, Heathers The Musical kicks off hard and never lets up, hitting like a mallet to the nether regions. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show its devoted fans are determined to ensure it will be around for a long, long time. On this evidence, it very likely will. Catch it now and see a classic in the making. Simply, subversively, marvellous.

Heathers The Musical, presented by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor Mills, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until May 6.

For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre


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