There’s a reason why the musical based on the cult hit movie has amassed a cult following - and why 200 shows in to its current UK tour Heathers is attracting audiences fully committed to the bit.
Photo by Pamela Raith
Donning a uniform of blazers and scrunchies, there’s unspoken rituals whilst watching - whoop at first glance of the Heathers, crane your neck to see the chosen Steve (IYKYK) and throw spare scrunchies on to the stage during the curtain call. Even with a list of trigger warnings as long as your arm (some include eating disorders, suicide, sexual violence and strong language) there’s a buzz that makes Heathers big fun right from the off.
If you’re new to Sherwood, Ohio, the plot follows outcast Veronica Sawyer as she navigates a high school ruled by three teenage wrecking balls known simply as the Heathers. Drumming up a doomed relationship with the deadpan and deadly JD, the duo clock up quite the body count by bumping off their classmates and leaving behind suicide notes.
Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe wrote the book, music, and lyrics and every word - spoken and sang - is razor sharp with quick quips spoken with venom. As for the score, it may well be one of the best of modern musicals. It’s chock-a-block with big earworms. The tormenting chants of “Candy Store” under the guise of bubble gum pop, the soulful “My Dead Gay Son” and peppy “Big Fun” are just some of the tunes that go down as easy as a Slurpee - getting stuck in your brain rather than freezing it.
As Veronica and JD, Jenna Innes and Jacob Fowler take to each other like a moth to a flame. Innes’ wry humour and Fowler’s mumbled candid observations make their scenes intense, totally drawing us in to their mutual destruction. Their numbers are laced with a completely ironic sense of self. “Seventeen” is stripped right from a teenage Tumblr blog whilst Innes’ 11 o’clock number “I Say No” could fill stadiums. Fowler’s racing finale “Meant To Be Yours” is almost operatic in its destined tragedy.
The antagonistic Heathers – a particularly devilish Verity Thompson, a green with envy Elise Zavou and, at this performance, a hopeful Eliza Bowden – move like vipers, all slick and dangerous (choreography by Gary Lloyd) with popped hips and chiseled jawlines. As ape jocks Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney, Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson put on a terrific performance with commendable comic timing. It’s a dynamite cast.
Under Andy Flickman’s direction Heathers is zippy with a rollercoaster pace carrying us to the final drop. Ben Cracknell’s clever lighting illuminates the Heathers love of primary colours and David Shields’ all-American design combined with Johnny Palmer’s costumes (or in some parts, lack of) really capture the 80s Westerberg spirit.
Wielding a croquet mallet and carrying a load of TNT you can see why people go (corn)nuts for Heathers.
Heathers plays at Curve Leicester before continuing on tour. Catch the show in its final few weeks in London.