Music and lyrics: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe
Director: Andy Fickman
It’s greetings and salutations from Heathers, as it stops at Blackpool Opera House on its latest national tour.
It’s become a cult classic in the musical theatre world and with its name comes hype and a huge fan base (often donned in red, yellow and green) – something that can quite often lead to disappointment. And while the concept should be cringe, the themes are not designed for humour and the characters should not work, it absolutely does live up to its name – bringing with it one of the tightest tour casts, some of the best lead vocals and a whole heap of dark comedy in the surroundings of the iconic Westerberg High.
Since 1988, this story has become quite the phenomenon – following protagonist Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes) as she joins the popular ‘Heathers’ to make her journey at school as easy (or so she thinks) as possible. But being popular comes at a price and after meeting and falling in love with the dark and enigmatic J.D, her geekiness soon takes a rebellious twist as she is plunged deep into a high school world of fake notes and murder.
The production, directed by Andy Fickman and with music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, does not stop from start to finish. The scene changes are quick (the costume changes too), the numbers come thick and fast and the plot line keeps you guessing and on your feet throughout. There is never a dull moment and the cast work beyond hard, in a show that is a gruelling ask for all, to keep the energy levels up and the standards high.
Sawyer, which has previously been played by Carrie Hope Fletcher and other names, is a huge role and it really is a part that can make and break the entire show. Cast it wrong and the whole production could be one big flop. Cast it right and you’re onto a sensational success. Thankfully, on this latest leg, they’ve got it just right – shining a light on the beautifully talented Innes (who has starred in Les Miserables in the West End and who has a history at The Other Palace, where Heathers enjoyed a record breaking season). Her musical capabilities are just staggering and to deliver that level of demanding vocals eight times a week is beyond impressive. She’s an absolute star, whose on screen chemistry with the also beautifully cast Jacob Fowler (Jason J.D. Dean) is raw, passionate and captivating.
The ensemble, too, do not disappoint and the choreography by Gary Lloyd is fast, fun and flawless. The Heathers – Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson), Heather Duke (Elise Zavou) and Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman)- are horrendously but perfectly cliquey, Kingsley Morton as Martha Dunnstock is mesmerising and Jay Bryce and Conor McFarlane as the dads of Kurt and Ram create absolute uproar as they don their rainbow ties with pride in the incredibly entertaining number My Dead Gay Son. The only challenge, at times, is that the music can overshadow the vocals – and in particular, in Zavou’s number Never Shut Up Again, it is difficult, if you do not know the lyrics, to hear what the actress is actually saying.
That said, it’s one of the best shows on the road at the moment. It’s exciting and powerful and while filled with dark themes of suicide, sexual assault, teen violence, bullying and the perils of being Seventeen – be careful who you take with you – it is also weirdly hilarious, thanks to such a stellar cast. It’ll take you back to those high school days and all the pressure that comes with them, albeit in a highly sensationalised way, and provide you with performances and production values that are just Beautiful to watch.
Runs until 16 September 2023.