I’ll confess I’m late to the cult of Heathers, the film from 1988. Written and directed by Daniel Waters, this is a nasty, cynical look at the American high-school where teenage suicide, life defining cliques and a world full of oblivious parents reign supreme. It remains a lot of fun. Yet, this doesn’t really feel like this darkly tinged experience would make a great musical. Seeing it on stage with show-stopping tunes and chorus lines drains away the bite the original film is well known for. I know what they’re going for and it is just not working.
It’s hard not to compare the show to the film (I only saw the it the night prior) especially when choices are made in the musical altering minor aspects of the story. I didn’t expect the musical to open and close with Que Sera, Sera like in the film, though there are some missed opportunities here. Veronica singing with her clothes on in the high school showers is an example and the great little role of Father Ripper is no where to be seen in the musical. For some reason J. D. rumbles with the jocks has no gun on stage, leaving room for slow motion stage combat, as Veronica our lead declares her love for this mysterious boy. Any one would be an improvement from Christian Slater and here Simon Gordon has those familiar musical vocals and works well. It’s an unsavoury role today, as he essentially becomes the prototype of a school shooter/domestic terrorist, black trench coat and all.
This is a very quotable film and some of the lines in the show felt throwaway. Heather Chandler played by an affirmed Maddison Firth gets most of the juicy lines and quasi-rock numbers. Her return after her death to taunt Veronica is a pleasing addition. The songs by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe border on the generic, some attempts being made to emulate the era the story is set in. I found the second act had more of a tense impact in the songs. The opener to act two being My Dead Gay Son, an absurd number here sung by Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley as the warped fathers of jocks Kurt and Ram. What let down the song was the forced romance between both dads for no real reason. Following on is a lovely little ballad Seventeen sung by Veronica and J. D. getting a pleasing final few lines, as this twisted romance blossoms.
The jocks in question are here played by Rory Phelan as Ram and Liam Doyle as Kurt. These two have a lot going for them, with as much time spent in the gym as they did in rehearsals. The only gripe is that the stereotypical jock character gives them very little to work with. The element of homoerotic tension is implied when we see them back as ghosts, clad in just their tighty-whities, clutching croquet mallets. Rebecca Wickes gives off more Hairspray than Heathers vibes throughout, though I like her speed in the role and little tics she had. Merryl Ansah as other Heather Duke, comes into her own when the other Heather dies with her own number Shut Up No More.
Martha Dunnstock is taken on by Mhairi Angus. By far the most bullied person in the school, her song before her attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge (in the film she walks through traffic) Kindergarten Boyfriend, a sweet and touching moment for what’s about to happen. Lizzy Parker playing another one of the Heather McNamara, not really in this enough though another touching song sounds out, brining some honest feelings about all thats going on around her. Georgina Hagen as the insipid Ms. Fleming bursts onto the stage in the giddy role, where it’s more about the cameras on her and the kids than about the real tragedies befalling the town. She brings a male audience member up form his seat for no real reason and ad libs for a moment. A cheap laugh ensues.
Andy Fickman’s direction might not be as tight as it should be here. The sets of David Shields shows Westerburg High in a very uninspired way, never feeling like it has much weight. Lighting by Ben Cracknell has moments of inspiration, lighting each of the Heathers gang in their own livery was a nice touch and some moments of disco dance also brought smiles.
The point of Heathers is through very poor decisions is there the realisation that true friends were there all along and that lashing out and bullying is never the answer. In truth, the show might have not really focused on this as much as it should have.
Heathers runs at the WMC till 4 December 2021.