There aren’t many mainstream musicals like Heathers. Few this intense, probably none this cutting and with an increasing feeling of darkness permeating Act 2. But despite the edgy story it’s fun, witty, with laugh out loud lines and lyrics that catch you off guard all the way through.
Heathers the Musical is based on the cult 80’s movie Heathers, a dark coming of age comedy and antithesis to the generation of much-loved John Hughes movies of the time. It’s a story of teen angst with a body count. Since its inception, the musical has gained a cult following with a new generation of fans.
It’s a daring choice of show for the mainstream with its distinctly fringe vibes. It’s the musical equivalent of Die Hard in the Top Christmas Movies list. In fact, if you don’t really like musical theatre, you might want to give this a try. It manages to avoid being just another Film – The Musical, with a banging score and excellent book.
The basic storyline breaks down to Nerd Girl joins Mean Girls. Nerd/Mean Girl meets Bad Boy. Nerd/Mean Girl and Bad Boy fall in dysfunctional love. Bad Boy facilitates murder of top Mean Girl, shoots two other Mean Boys, tries to murder Nerd/Mean Girl then his attempt to blow up the school with a bomb is thwarted.
The complexities of the story comes with the social commentary and the satirical take on the social and support systems.
The end of the show is literally an edge of the seat moment, even if you’ve seen the movie, and that’s not an experience you often get in the Hippodrome’s annual programme of the mainly upbeat and cheerful.
For the unwary, students do die. It’s quite close to the movie in this regard, although Veronica doesn’t deliberately kill anyone. But students do get shot, poisoned and there is an attempt to blow up the school with a bomb. It’s uncanny prescience might make audiences question the suitability of the material. But it satirises the way it’s tackled within the system and the deaths are deliberately performed in the campy style of a Musical Theatre School for Over Acting. The story is a relevant as ever and the astute observations around high school and education translates both sides of the Atlantic even today.
In this respect, I particularly loved Georgina Hagen’s Ms Fleming, as the self-absorbed wishy-washy guidance counsellor. Anyone who’s been through getting additional support for their children in England will have met that character a few times. The way she pushes away Mhairi Angus’ beautifully innocent and naive Martha Dunnstock when she’s extremely vulnerable is a scathing comment on her superficiality and that of the systems that should be in place to help.
As things continue to spiral, Veronica comes to some understanding that despite being a bully, Heather Chandler also managed to maintain a sense of balance like a manipulative and controlling Jedi Knight, which is completely lost with her death and Heather Duke’s attempts to step into the power vacuum.
Heather and the two murdered jocks return in spirit form throughout the show. Maddison Firth as Heather Chandler in this respect almost steals the show.
The casting is just superb. There are so many professional or musical theatre debuts, it’s great to see productions don’t have to resort to stunt casting to create something this good. It’s really worth going to see Heathers, which is a bit different, a bit clever and probably not what you’re expecting if unfamiliar with the film.
Whilst all the cast were marvellous, Maddison Firth as Heather Chandler, Merryl Ansah as Heather Duke and Lizzy Parker as Heather McNamara are just delightfully wicked. They are a perfectly synced girl group and although they are a bit mean, in a subversive way, it’s enjoyable watching strong female characters wielding their power in this genre.
Heathers the Musical is a deliciously dark show that is entertaining, well-crafted and expertly performed. It’s at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 13 November 2021.
For more information or to book, visit: https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome/
For more information about the show, visit: https://www.heathersthemusical.com/