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Balads, teenage angst and powerful performances

Heathers: The Musical

Music, Lyrics and Book by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe

Review by David Bithell

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Based on the memorable 1989 teen movie, the musical adaptation has again returned to boards since its 2018 premiere, acquiring an even more ardent fandom as it goes. Luckily, the production and its freshly rejigged cast mostly live up to the hype.

At preppy 80’s school Westerberg High, Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes) is cruel and immoral, until she does a favour for mean queen Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson) and her sidekicks, Heather Duke (Elise Zavou) and Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman). Transported to top level status, Veronica has to deal with guilt over disowning best friend Martha (Kingsley Morton); lecherous jocks Kurt (Alex Woodward) and Ram (Morgan Jackson); and mysterious, dangerous new boy Jason ‘J.D’ Dean (Jacob Fowler). What’s a girl to do, and who might die in the process?

“Heathers”, is essentially a pop-rock musical about teen suicide and self-expression, at the same time toes the line between black comedy, camp and genuine despair, largely managing to pull off the contrast. No stone is left unturned of the satirical firing line, which covers all characteristics from the blasé egocentric adults to the saga of the sensitive loner. The show touches on themes of sexuality, conformity and the glamourisation of trauma with honesty and humour. High school is a funny but dangerous minefield, says the show.

Helping smooth over some of the rockier patches in the score are the uniformly strong and committed performances of the cast, who from smallest chorus member to lead infuse their characters with personality and flair. All are in fine voice and are given chances to belt to the rooftops. Most memorable sections of the play are where the “adults” of the piece are allowed to shine, as two dads (Conor McFarlane and Jay Bryce) lament their ‘dead gay sons’ and teacher Ms Fleming (Katie Paine) uses teen suicide to explore her own issues.

As the destructive teen lovers, Fowler and Innes have genuine chemistry, and Innes almost steals the show with her transformation from ditzy, lovestruck teenager to cynic to hopeful survivor. Almost, but not quite: in each scene they appear, Woodward and Jackson’s jocks waltz in and walk off with all the belly laughs.

But there are moments of despair too, particularly in Morton’s solo as Martha contemplates suicide. The lovely fact that the cast can switch so easily from one to the other is very much commendable.

Unfortunately, there are minor problems with diction and clarity throughout the show. Multiple numbers are affected by this, which meant many lyrics are drowned out by the band and otherwise enjoyable vocal performances are undermined.. In such a fast moving spectacle, keeping on top of scenes is vital, and not being able to hear what’s being said or sung is a genuine problem. But this wasn’t throughout so don’t let this spoil your night out.

Heathers deserves its appreciations. A funny and heartfelt show delivered with a streak of darkness and satirical wit with its excellent cast of performers.

One not to be missed!

At the Regent Theatre, Hanley until 15th April 2023

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