Wednesday 16 August 2023

Heathers the Musical

 Curve, Leicester

15th August, 2023

Life could be beautiful

You can’t fault producers Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills for what they’ve achieved with Heathers the Musical. Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s 2013 black musical comedy didn’t quite find its feet in the US. This side of the Atlantic the show, which last week announced the closure of its London production, has become a cult hit. Teenagers in the audience dress up as their favourite Heather and throw colourful scrunchies on stage at the curtain call. Based on the 1989 film, you can see why its dark humour and subversiveness appeals to a certain age. But whilst its tone aims to mix nihilism with bubble gum humour, it often strikes an odd chord.

In Heathers, the torments of high school life are emphasised to their extremes. Everyone is defined by a single characteristic or their clique: the sports jocks, the geeks and, predecessors to the Mean Girls, the Heathers, led by ‘mythical biatch’ Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson). Sporting blazers, miniskirts and croquet mallets, each one is assigned their own colour as accentuated in Ben Cracknell’s lighting. Nerdy Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes) lands herself a prime lunch spot with the Heathers once they discover her gift for forgery. She is subsequently torn between her distaste for her new friends, her desire to be popular and her increasing attraction to the mysterious new kid, JD (played convincingly with chilling quirk here by Jacob Fowler), that leads to jealousy, spite and eventually murder.

JD has an overprotective streak and father issues which leads him to a killing spree that propels the musical’s plot. School shootings have shockingly become a reoccurring event in America. Whilst there are plays which explore the subject matter more seriously (Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock in 2009, and Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli’s columbinus in 2005), the songs in Heathers help to keep such extremes in the realm of comedy whilst providing some insight into JD’s psychology and motivations. “Freeze Your Brain” explains how 7/11 stores have been his only mainstay in a nomadic upbringing, taking solace in the brain freeze that a Slushie brings: ‘Get lost in the pain/ Happiness comes when everything numbs’. It’s in numbers like this which the score quietly shines. While some of the ensemble numbers are a little hectic, the musical comes into its own in the quieter solo or duet set-pieces. Whether that be the dark humour in Veronica and JD ad-libbing Heather Chandler’s suicide note – ‘My problems were myriad, I was having my period’ – the pleasant simplicity of "Seventeen", or Heather McNamara’s moment of soulbearing in "Lifeboat".

Although the performance we saw was the 200th of the current UK tour, one of the challenges of touring is a new venue each week. It may be that the production is still settling into this week’s Westerburg High but, at this performance, Dan Samson’s sound design didn’t fare too well. Mics were occasionally turned up late and vocals were often drowned out by a fuzzy-sounding band which sounded like they were playing in a different room. What is an enjoyable show would have been more enjoyable had we been able to hear the lyrics a little more clearly.

With the London run closing next month, I’m confident Heathers will continue to find an audience. It’s a fun musical which doesn’t take its acerbic undercurrents too seriously and quite clearly speaks to a new generation of theatregoers which, ultimately, is something to celebrate.

Heathers the Musical plays at Curve, Leicester until 19th August and continues to tour until 4th November. The London production is currently playing at The Other Palace until 3rd September. For more information, please visit

Jenna Innes and Jacob Fowler in Heather the Musical. Credit: Pamela Raith

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