The 14th amendment of the American constitution validated the equality provisions contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guaranteed that all citizens would have the guaranteed right to equal protection by law. So, the USA prides itself that all of its citizens are equal under the law. However, there is one area of American society where its citizens are about as equal as someone born in the most feudal and hierarchical of societies. That place is high school, where popularity is everything and most students can only dream of escaping their niche and climbing to the top of the heap. Mix this with lashings of teenage angst, and you have the perfect setting for a blockbuster musical, such as Heathers which is not only returning to the West End this month but also has a touring production that I caught when it landed at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week.
Westerberg High School in 1989 is where you will find 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) and her best friend Martha Dunnstock (Mhairi Angus). They are pretty much at the bottom of the social hierarchy of the school. Their lives are a constant fight to survive the daily struggles and tribulations thrown at them by the people above them.
Handsome jocks like Ram Sweeney (Rory Phelan) and Kurt Kelly (Liam Doyle) terrorise them at lunchtime. Veronica has had enough of the status quo and one day finds a way to change her life by being accepted by undoubted queens of Westerberg, The Heathers – Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth), Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah) and Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker). Yes, Veronica has to change everything about herself, including dumping Martha, but that’s fine because she has not only scaled the social mountain almost to the peak, but she has also met someone special, the mysterious and very cool new kid Jason “J.D.” Dean (Simon Dean). Veronica’s life couldn’t be any better. Then one night at Ram’s party, something happens that changes Veronica’s life completely and has a life-changing effect on Westberg students, staff, and the town itself.
Not having seen the show before, or even read about it, I was expecting Heathers the Musical to be a fairly standard story. Unpopular high school student finds a way to become popular, dumps their friend, has an epiphany, accepts who they are, and their best friend forgives them. And yes, there are elements of this in the show but it is so much more. Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy have taken a potentially standard story and turned it into something so much deeper and darker, covering issues such as bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault, and the hunt for fame. Heavy topics for a high school-based musical you might think, but the writing – both book and lyrics – make the whole thing not just palatable but very, very enjoyable and so much fun. For example, looking at the programme, the second act opens with a song called ‘My Dead Gay Son’. It seemed a rather depressing way to start but, in fact, it’s one of the best and funniest numbers in the show that gets a message of tolerance and acceptance across without sounding worthy or preachy. Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley perform the song beautifully and really bring the audience into the second act, ready to party and enjoy the story.
I could spend hours sitting here analysing the various elements of the show. Were Ram, Kurt and JD the way they were because of nature or nurture? Who really runs the school? The pupils, headed by The Heather, or the Administration that seem to accept the daily bullying of pupils? Why does popularity matter so much, and how would I have gone at 17 to achieve it? Honestly, I can feel a PhD thesis being submitted on the show one day. But I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to tell you that Heather The Musical is just brilliant.
All the performers are excellent. Rebecca Wickes and Simon Dean have real chemistry as Veronica and JD respectively. The Heathers themselves are a perfect combination of beauty and power and the first time they appear on stage is jaw-dropping. As for Ram and Kurt, well they are just the perfect neanderthal high school jocks, with a friendship/bromance that borders on being a bit too close. Handsome with perfectly toned bodies – seriously,
how long do these boys spend in the gym – they are the kings of the school whose bodies will one day turn to flab as they push a broom at the local Target. This is a fantastic cast which under Director Andy Fickman and Choreographer Gary Lloyd, really brings the people and stories of Westerberg High School to life on David Shields’ flexible, multi-level set.
There really is so much to love about this show, and I quickly understood why there were so many members of the audience wearing Westberg letterman jackets and Heather costumes going into the theatre. The show obviously has a dedicated following and I can totally understand why. So no, Heathers The Musical isn’t your typical story of American teenage angst. Instead, it’s a deep and moving analysis of a microcosm of American life that is entertaining, fun and, as they say, a rollicking good night. The tour goes on to December so if you can’t get to the West End, do your damnedest to catch it when it hits your town.
Review by Terry Eastham
Following two smash-hit record-breaking London West End seasons, Heathers The Musical embarks on its first national tour.
This high octane, black comedy rock musical based on the 1988 film of the same name is back with a bang, missing out might just be the death of you…
Greetings and salutations!
Welcome to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD turns up, the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder to be a somebody. Recommended 14+.
Heathers the Musical UK Tour
Book Tickets for New Wimbledon Theatre
Wed 3 Nov – Sat 6 Nov 2021
Book Tickets for Bristol Hippodrome Theatre
Tue 9 Nov – Sat 13 Nov 2021
Book Tickets for Milton Keynes Theatre
Tue 16 Nov – Sat 20 Nov 2021
Book Tickets for Edinburgh Playhouse
Tue 7 Dec – Sat 11 Dec 2021