Heathers the Musical at Theatre Royal Brighton

Heathers first hit the world as a very black comedy movie in 1989, starring Winona Ryder. At the time The Washington Post said that it was “the nastiest, cruellest fun you can have without studying law”, as the shallow plot deals comedically with suicide, bullying, homophobia and bulimia. In the last 32 years, attitudes to these have, thank goodness, changed and because of that, watching the show can be uncomfortable at times.

L-R Merryl Ansah, Maddison Firth & Lizzy Parker - Heathers UK Tour 2021 - Photos by Pamela Raith
L-R Merryl Ansah, Maddison Firth & Lizzy Parker – Heathers UK Tour 2021 – Photos by Pamela Raith

Heathers the Musical, has quickly become nearly as much of a cult as its film predecessor, if audiences at Brighton were anything to go by, most being under twenty and, by the sound of it, already know it well!

Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s show is about Veronica, a new studious girl at Westerburg High School, who quickly realises that, in order to survive, she has to join the ‘Heathers‘, a group of bullies who all happen to be called Heather. She also falls for ‘JD’, whose father is a “deconstructor” – in other words, he demolishes buildings!

All the ensemble cast perform with great energy, especially in the athletic choreography (Gary Lloyd), and succeed in putting over most of the lyrics so that the story is easy to follow, however grotesque it becomes!

Particularly successful are Rebecca Wickes as Veronica and Simon Gordon as JD, both of whom manage to develop three-dimensional roles out of a rather two-dimensional script, which lacks motivation. Gordon, especially puts over his songs with much finesse and actually makes the words tell. There is a great rapport between the two, and the piece lifts whenever they have a scene together.

The ‘Heathers‘ themselves are portrayed by Maddison Firth, Merryl Ansah, and Lizzy Parker, inventively dressed in red, green and yellow (designer David Shields), even if the costumes did seem to need an iron! The director (Andy Fickman) had clearly instructed them to shout all their lines, which got a tad tiresome, and to use as little facial expression as possible, but this worked within the parameters of the show. In fact Firth especially was quite evil and one found oneself quickly loathing her!

Like a melodrama, the musical has more than its fair share of villains: in fact most of the characters are very unpleasant indeed, which makes the cheerful music they sing seem quite ironic, and two of the nastiest are Kurt (Liam Doyle) and Ram (Rory Phelan), who both relish their roles. ‘Adults’, such as parents and teachers, are given one-dimensional, stereotypical roles, but Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley, in a variety of characters, prove that they can dance and sing as well as those on stage who are much younger!

This is a show that clearly, judging by the reaction at Brighton during half term week, appeals to young people, many of whom were obviously making their first visit to the Theatre Royal. One can but hope that their visit will inspire at least some of them to “get the theatre habit”. I should have loved to have quizzed the few over 70s in the audience to discover their reaction! A musical for the young in heart I feel – they clearly enjoyed the experience and showed it vociferously at the curtain call!

Heathers the Musical is on an extended tour of the UK so…

4 stars

Review by John Groves

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.

Heathers The Musical is at Theatre Royal Brighton from Tuesday 26th October, 2021 to Saturday 30th October, 2021.

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