Reviewed by Lindsay Burton
Not having any background knowledge of this musical, I sat down at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, making myself comfortable for the show to begin. Act one opened with a very catchy “Beautiful” and had everyone’s attention from the get go! We meet the Heathers we KNOW who the cool kids are at Westerberg High School!
Heathers: The Musical is a rock musical with music, lyrics and book by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, based on the 1989 film of the same name written by Daniel Waters. The producers include J. Todd Harris, Amy Powers, RJ Hendricks, and Andy Cohen. After a sold-out Los Angeles tryout, the show moved Off-Broadway in 2014. After the run in 2014 the show had an Off-West End run in 2018 and then transferred to the West End in 2018 for a limited engagement. While the show is a high-energy black comedy, it opens conversations about dark issues, including bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault, and school violence.
In 1989, 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) despairs at Westerberg High School’s hellish social hierarchy, where students like the obese Martha Dunnstock (Veronica’s best friend played by Mhairi Angus) are tormented by jocks Ram Sweeney (Rory Phelan) and Kurt Kelly (Liam Doyle), and the school is ruled by the Heathers: weak-willed Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker), bulimic and petty Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah), and “mythic bitch” Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth). When Veronica’s talent for forgery gets the Heathers out of detention, they give her a makeover and elevate her to their inner circle.
Chandler discovers Martha’s crush on Ram, and orders Veronica to forge a love letter from him to Martha; tempting Veronica with the promise of popularity. The mysterious, poetry-quoting new kid, Jason “J.D.” Dean (Simon Gordon), criticizes Veronica for betraying her friend. After J.D. wins a fight against Ram and Kurt, Veronica finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him. Veronica’s parents confess to their daughter that they are not sure they like her new friends and would prefer if she was friends with Martha again.
Veronica flirts with J.D. at a 7-Eleven, where he commends the goodness of the Slurpee for numbing his grief. At Ram’s homecoming party, Veronica continues to get drunk and high and when the Heathers play a cruel joke on Martha, Veronica angrily quits the clique of bitchy girls and vomits on Chandler. Her reputation in ruins, Veronica climbs into J.D.’s bedroom and has XXX with him. (editor’s note – word removed)
After suffering a horrible dream, Veronica and D.J. make their way over to Chandler’s, begs her for her forgiveness and mixes a hangover cures for them. J.D. adds lethal drain cleaner to his cup as a joke, but the cups accidentally get switched. J.D. is aware of this, but doesn’t say anything to Veronica before she hands it to Chandler. Chandler drinks from the poisoned cup and dies. Veronica panics, but J.D. convinces her to forge a suicide note; which paints a more complex, misunderstood Chandler. This fictionalized version of her wins the school’s sympathy and she becomes even more worshipped in death than she was in life. The Chandler’s ghost assists in the letter writing which produces quite a few laughs and giggles from the audience!
Veronica tries to get on with her normal life, but she is continuously berated and mocked by Chandler’s ghost. She tries to rescue the Heathers from a drunk Kurt and Ram, who aggressively beg her for XXX (editor’s word removed), but she manages to get them covered in cow muck and stuck!
Duke claims Chandler’s position as top bitch and symbolic red scrunchie while Ram and Kurt tell everyone they both had XXX (editor’s note – word removed) with Veronica simultaneously. Veronica is labelled a whore and when J.D. attacks the jocks to protect her, he gets the worse end of that stick and gets beaten up.
J.D. and Veronica comfort each other and plan to teach them both a lesson: she will lure the jocks to the cemetery with the idea of making their fictional threesome real, then together they will shoot them with tranquilizer “Ich lüge” bullets to knock them out before leaving yet another forged suicide note telling the world they were gay and declared their love for one another. Both XXX (editor’s note – word removed) driven jocks jump at the chance and when they arrive, J.D. shoots Ram but Veronica misses Kurt. As she realizes Ram is dead and the bullets are real, J.D. shoots Kurt dead and proclaims his undying love to a horrified and scared Veronica.
This musical vindicates its existence and indeed its survival best when it goes to weird extremes, such as when a contemptuous Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth, who comes very close to stealing the show) spooks Veronica after she is killed off.
The music is catchy but a few ballads really stuck in my brain as just plain lovely: Seventeen, in which Veronica begs to be a normal, non-murdering teenager, and Freeze Your Brain, JD’s ode to the frozen slushies that help him numb his feelings. I also thoroughly enjoyed “Our Love is God” where Veronica and DJ declare their total affection to one another…..creepy but beautiful! It’s scenes like this that made the musical form me!
The rest of the cast provide energetic and kick-ass entertainment, carefully balancing the intensely crazy with normal High School life. A special mention to Mhairi Angus who plays Veronica’s “uncool” friend, Mhairi Angus, for her version of the innocent Kindergarten Boyfriend with delicate yet powerful vocals. And to Lizzy Parker for her hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Lifeboat” which just encapsulates the essence of what these kids are having the cope with on a daily basis!
Massive shout out to the set, lighting and sound designers David Shields, Ben Cracknell and Dan Samson. A massive job done brilliantly and flawlessly!
This show packs a punch, taking you from the madness that is our current real-life into the craziness that is portrayed on stage. Recommended for ages 14 and above. Under 14s MUST be accompanied by an adult.
No matter the reason for seeing it, whether it be for its nostalgia, faultless cast, or brilliantly catchy numbers, you do not want to be the one missing out on this: definitely the best show in town. I rate this show as 5/5! Tickets start from £13 and can be purchased from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/heathers-the-musical/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/calendar/2021-09-22.
I throughly enjoy this venue with parking closely located and the exits when leaving. The piano bar is so lovely and welcoming and staff are super helpful and incredibly friendly!