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Heathers the Musical at New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

I don’t envy the cast of the touring production of Heathers the Musical, performing on a regional press night on the last leg of this UK and Ireland tour – earlier in the day, the news came through that their producer, Bill Kenwright CBE, had died the night before. On certain of his press nights, Kenwright would sometimes be seated amongst the press and other invited guests, and he wasn’t ashamed to express his enthusiasm for his productions. After all, if the producer doesn’t believe in his show, why should anyone else?

Heathers UK Tour 2023 - Pamela Raith Photography.
Heathers UK Tour 2023 – Pamela Raith Photography.

Thanks to Kenwright, this musical has developed something of a cult following in Blighty – a loud cheer went up as soon as the lights went down for Act One, Scene One. On paper, it could be argued that the show should come with trigger warnings (the irony of the word ‘trigger’ will not be lost on fans and followers of the show). Its most severe detractors think it shouldn’t be staged at all, as – spoiler alert – there’s not much fun or entertainment to be had watching high school kids getting rid of other high school kids forever, especially when there are more than enough school shootings in the United States in real life.

But with Jason Dean, known as JD (Jacob Fowler) knowing how to – well – end people, which, in a surprising twist to this American story, doesn’t always involve firearms, and Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes) is able to forge fellow pupils’ handwriting, a combination of fake suicide notes and an ability to get their story straight and keep it straight should, in theory, prevent criminal convictions. Then there are the Heathers of the show’s title, Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson), in red, Heather Duke (Elise Zavou), in green and Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman), in yellow. Together with Veronica, in blue, when the quartet appear in their signature colours at the same time, you’d be forgiven for thinking a television debate prior to a General Election was about to take place. Through song.

Parts of the narrative are so absurd that one can’t help but be amused by it, which is very different from being amused by punishments that are disproportionate to misdemeanours. Evidently, in the world of Heathers the Musical, where teachers are portrayed as ineffective and out-of-touch with pupils, the ‘cool kids’ have ways of making sure their bullying behaviour goes undetected by the powers that be, which in turn explains the drastic responses. The audience, then, experiences a wide range of emotions, and the shock factor can be just as prevalent as the humour, though – as someone who has seen two different casts in two very different venues before seeing this version – the former is, predictably, somewhat diminished on a repeat visit to the show. The latter, I am pleased to report, is not.

In a world where it feels increasingly necessary to watch every word one says to mitigate against causing offence (though there is, as I have long since discovered, no way of pleasing everybody all the time), there’s something strangely refreshing about hearing playground insults bandied about as freely as they are here. Innes’ Veronica and Fowler’s JD are pretty much the perfect leads for this production, with soaring vocals in quite demanding numbers that are seemingly effortless. Fowler had an extraordinary ability to convincingly go from enigmatic to utterly menacing in a nanosecond, and much of the rest of the cast, appear to have just as much boundless energy, in a show that progresses briskly, in line with the youthful vitality of high school pupils.

Kudos to Gary Lloyd’s choreography, a pleasure to witness from beginning to end. Finally, the show’s more positive messages about making a conscious effort to make the world ‘beautiful’, as the final number emphasises, is rightly the takeaway point in an otherwise curious, irreverent and unconventional production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following two smash hit West End seasons, a record-breaking run at The Other Palace and winning the WhatsOnStage award for BEST NEW MUSICAL, Heathers The Musical, the black comedy rock musical based on the eponymous 1988 film, embarks on a new national tour.

Westerberg High’s Veronica Sawyer is just another nobody dreaming of a better day. But when she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers and her dreams of popularity may finally come true, mysterious teen rebel JD teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.

Please note that this production contains strong language and mature themes including: references to suicide and eating disorders; moments of violence; murder; sexual content; sexual violence; gunshots and flashing lights.

Heathers The Musical is at New Wimbledon Theatre from Tuesday 24th October, 2023 to Saturday 28th October, 2023.

View all shows booking now at New Wimbledon Theatre.

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