MusicalNorth WestReview

Heathers – Liverpool Empire

Reviewer: John McRoberts

Book, Music, Lyrics: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe

Director: Andy Fickman

One thing is for certain Heathers is not your traditional piece of musical theatre – tackling issues such as homophobia, suicide, date rape, murder, bullying, sexual awakening, arson, neglect etc, writers Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe seemingly struggle to find a style that makes Heathers truly unique or interesting.

Having already scored big with Legally Blonde, O’Keefe’s music in Heathers feels like the weaker sibling, derivative in style and lacking in originality (‘Freeze Your Brain’ sounding suspiciously like ‘Chip on Your Shoulder’). Sure, there are a few strong numbers ‘Seventeen’, ‘My Dead Gay Son’ to name a couple, but it seems the musical wants to blast everything at you at full force and rarely attempts a level of depth and character development. The storyline speeds by. The pace at which it moves leaves far too many questions of why? Why would Veronica just go along with JD so quickly? Why would JD do the things he does when he so despises the same behaviour from his family? The stakes never seem strong or high enough for any of the actions or consequences to really mean anything.

Despite its struggles holding the plot together and the songs not really being anything to write home about, O’Keefe and Murphy have a skill at writing punchy one-liners that litter the show with laugh out loud moments, these are helped by Andy Fickman’s pacey if a little pedestrian direction, but when the comic moments work, they do so beautifully. That seems to be the overall impression Heathers gives, it tries the best with what it is given – the cast are stunning across the board, but the creative side of the show seems to hinder their efforts. David Shields’ plain and rudimentary high school set design may suit the needs of touring theatre but it looks poor… we’ve seen this so many times before. Ben Cracknell’s lighting design is functional but how many times do we have to see the Heathers punctuated in a colour spot? Gary Lloyds choreography also seems to be lacking in style and originality – for a creative who has produced one of the best dance/tribute shows in Thriller Live – this seems like a payday special rather than something to be truly proud of.

As previously mentioned, Heathers really shines through its cast and leading lady Reebecca Wickes is sensational as Veronica she flits brilliantly between caring and bitchy perfectly. Simon Gordon gives just the right amount of mystery to surround the dark edges of JD. Maddison Firth (Heather Chandler), Merryl Ansah (Heather Duke) and Lizzy Parker (Heather McNamara) are a delectable trio that you can’t help being tantalised by. Older cast members Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley provide plenty to enjoy through their variety of roles especially that of Kurt and Ram’s fathers. Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan provide plenty to laugh at thanks to their rambunctious ways as jocks Kurt and Ram. Special mention must also go to Mhairi Angus as the victimised Martha Dunnstock especially during her eleventh-hour number in act 2.

Heathers is enjoyable, its cast are strong, but the piece overall feels disjointed and stylistically a little unstable to truly make it a long-lived classic.

Runs until 28 August 2021 and continues on its UK Tour

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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