The Curve is abuzz and packed to the rafters with musical theatre fans, some of whom have even dressed up for the occasion, donning scrunchies of red, green, yellow and blue – a testament to the cult following that Heathers: The Musical has gained since its debut in 2010.
The show follows Veronica Sawyer, the high school ‘nobody’ who helps out the popular girls, the Heathers, in a bid to befriend them with the hope that it will make her time at school more bearable – though this comes with unexpectedly fatal consequences. With book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, it is based on the 1988 cult hit film of the same name and won the WhatsOnStage award for Best New Musical in 2019.
The convertible set, moved seamlessly by the cast, is cleverly designed by David Shields to adapt the setting and, complemented by well-timed and effective lighting and sound by Ben Cracknell and Dan Samson respectively, to transport the audience to various locations around Sherwood, Ohio. Costumes are bright, flamboyant and diverse, and add to the Westerberg High School aesthetic, denoting each character’s role and, in some cases, their place in the well-established student hierarchy.
Jenna Innes is outstanding as Veronica; her vocals are jaw-dropping, demonstrating incredible stamina, and she also shows off her skill as a character actor, adding humour and likeability which are integral to the success of the plot, making her utterly captivating throughout. Her breathtaking performance of ‘I Say No’ in Act Two absolutely brings the house down.
Her charming and enigmatic love interest, JD, is played convincingly by Jacob Fowler. He is completely believable as the troubled and charismatic teen turned murderous psychopath and his distinctive vocals are beautifully controlled in ‘Freeze Your Brain’. He and Innes have brilliant chemistry on stage, and their duet ‘Our Love is God’ captures perfectly the infatuation and intensity of a first teenage love.
Another exceptional vocal performance comes from Verity Thompson as Heather Chandler (the red one), leader of the Heathers (and, indeed, the whole school). Thompson absolutely nails her portrayal of the vicious and entitled queen bee and commands the stage with aplomb, making it impossible to take your eyes off her. She is hilarious as the ‘dead best friend’ toying with Veronica’s conscience, and is particularly entertaining during ‘The Me Inside of Me’, weaving her way maniacally around the characters onstage as she embraces the benefits of being dead.
Elise Zavou also impresses as Heather Duke (the green one), giving a strong rendition of ‘Never Shut Up Again’ which involves a spectacular costume change as she dons the red scrunchie and assumes the top spot, while also showing off her talent as a dancer.
The final member of the trio, and arguably the most human, Heather McNamara (the yellow one), is played by Eliza Bowden this evening, and boy does she step up to the plate in her professional debut, as she stands in for Billie Bowman. Her emotive performance of ‘Lifeboat’ in Act Two, which she sings and acts beautifully, really stands out as the first really poignant moment of the show.
Kingsley Morton is hugely likeable as Veronica’s best friend, Martha Dunnstock; she is the only genuinely innocent character in the show, and she tugs on the heartstrings with her sympathetic and relatable performance, while also adding some well-timed humour. Her heartfelt rendition of ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’, showing wonderful control of her lovely voice, is a highlight of Act Two.
The main source of comedy in the show comes from Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson, who play the caricatured jocks, Kurt and Ram, who think they’re god’s gift to women – indeed, they spend the entirety of Act 2 in just underpants and socks (and a tie, which Ram’s mum bought him). Their number, ‘You’re Welcome’, shows off their strong vocals, and they employ an almost slapstick physical comedy, making a perfect double-act with perfectly synchronised head nods which have the audience in stitches.
Stand-out moments for me come at the start of Act 2, with Jay Bryce and Conor McFarlane’s hilarious ‘My Dead Gay Son’; you feel in safe hands with these experienced actors, and McFarlane’s falsetto note is the perfect end to this flamboyant number. Equally brilliant is ‘Shine a Light’, sung with conviction by Katie Paine as Ms Fleming; this audience-participation section of the show is handled with ease by Paine, who shows exceptional comic timing and skill in improvisation. These three actors play all of the adult parts in the show, doubling and tripling up on roles and moving between them (and some very fast costume changes) with ease.
A show with so many strong principal actors must be supported by an equally talented ensemble, and it comes in buckets from Markus Sodergren, Tom Dickerson, Liam Dean, Maeve Byrne, Summer Priest, Eleanor Walsh and Lizzie Emery. They are perfectly synchronised in executing Gary Lloyd’s slick and stylised choreography, which also makes effective use of slow motion at several key moments in the show, providing further comedy.
Heathers: The Musical comes with a deluge of trigger warnings, dealing with serious themes including murder, suicide, bullying, sexual harassment and eating disorders, but tackling them in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner which makes them accessible and feeds into the underlying message of equality, diversity and inclusion and letting kids just ‘be seventeen’. A murderously funny show with some absolutely belting musical numbers. Heathers, isn’t one to be missed.
Photo credit. Pamela Raith