Lip gloss and murder, a deadly concoction. One that Heathers brews up with camp, infections and gleeful enjoyment. The adaptation of the cult classic ‘80s film zips with wit, humour and some knockout performances. It is both original and unexpected. With this mix of sickly sweet and sour, the musical only loses a small amount of the film’s telling irony, and it keeps the intelligence and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the social pecking order of an American high school.
Heathers is rightly a classic and the mother to later films such as Clueless and Mean Girls. It follows the story of Veronica, who is pulled into a toxic friendship with the three heathers (high school royalty), and then into an even more bloody courtship with JD (We Need to Talk About Kevin for the ‘80s). But I did wonder: would it work as a musical? Serial killing can be hard to transfer to music. The short answer is… fabulously. The long answer is…. with reservations (but they are small). Let’s tuck in?
The transfer over from The Other Palace and the reshuffling of some scenes (and the cutting of whole songs) understandably creates some mess, and this could do with a tightening up. Leading on from that there is a very clumsy scene that flirts with sexual harassment/violence that is dealt with less deftly that the rest of the show, which is disappointing.
The songs are also inconsistent in strength; there are about five stunners, which have the heart- panging and the foot-tapping, and then there are the rest; rather forgettable. This show has so much greatness tucked away under its matching tartan blazer, but it still has a long way to go. Finally, I pity the cast. Especially Carrie Hope Fletcher (playing Veronica), not for starring in a new hit musical which sees no sign of slowing down, but for their poor vocal cords. This is a classic American belty (shouty?) score, and with such vocal acrobatics and constant octave changes, it is demanding to say the least. With a professional such as Fletcher sounding stretched on one of the songs, I do hope they have time for ginger, hot water, and honey!
But these are minor details, like a fly in the rum and coke you stole from your parents’ liquor cabinet, this musical captures the swirl of emotions we experience in our teenage years. Heightening and stretching them while critiquing the cruelty of children and the climate of the ‘80s perfectly. It is also an absolute joy to watch. Glitter-covered, blood-soaked meanness, hard and bright and loud, it’s wonderfully full of contradictions, much like the rush of youth.
But it’s not just a biting script that makes a good musical (ask any amateur production of Les Mis), it’s the performances. Fletcher first and foremost stands out with all the expected vocal skill and stage presence. Having never seen her before and hearing about her formidable track record and devoted fans, it all fits into place. She captures our morally conflicted heroine Veronica with panache. JD, played by Jamie Muscato, comes in a close second, twitching as the psychotic and damaged youth. His performance is genuinely magnetic. Lastly, we have Jodie Steele, evil incarnate, a mix of Regina George and Cruella de Vil, dripping with venom. The overall cast is outstanding and the standards are very high. With clever choreography and an effective set, we are pushed into the dog-eat-dog world of the American high school and all the desperation that comes with it.
Heathers is a kaleidoscopic musical, jumping between The Book of Mormon-like numbers and ones that sound more like Hairspray; we have The Little Shop of Horrors-tongue-in-cheek and the fans’ obsession akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film’s cult status has clearly survived for a younger generation and still has a lot of relevance today, as the recent canceling of the Paramount TV adaption proves. This is a story of extreme cruelty told with a smile and matching eyeshadow. But the show pulls off the difficult subject matter of mass murder with surprising results. Watch this space, for with screaming fans, songs that stick in your brain like a knife to the temple and a cast as sassy as they are skilled, I think we have a cult classic musical on our hands! Heathers isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so “let’s go hunt some jocks”.
Heathers is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket