AdaptationDramaMusicalReviewSouth West

Heathers The Musical – Bristol Hippodrome

Reviewer: Francesca Parker

Director: Andy Fickman

Music and Lyrics: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe

The 80s was well known for its ‘Brat-Pack’ style films, big hair, latex and the creation of a number of cult classics – including the black comedy, Heathers. Despite receiving critical acclaim and having originally featured Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, the film was a total box office flop. In contrast, the musical production has gained much traction with its audiences but has made less of an impact on its critics. Who’s to know which is the lesser of two evils?

Anyway, ‘it’s September 1st 1989’ and as one of the less fashionable, generally more unpolished girls, Veronica is obviously not a part of the popular crowd at her high school; neither is her friend Martha Dunnstock who, unlike Veronica, is tormented about her appearance by the three Heathers. In an interesting turn of events, Veronica receives a full makeover and is officially inducted into their formidable troupe. Their friendship is fickle, fake and after falling foul of her usually sound moral compass, Veronica attempts to quit the group. From there all sorts of nonsense unfolds and, although not strictly adhering to the original plot, plenty of drama occurs. It certainly kills to be popular.

It’s a high-octane production, for sure. Quite simply put, Heathers is a series of energetic and predominantly incongruently, optimistic songs with a bit of murder in between. Although this music is catchy and some songs, most specifically ‘My Dead Gay Son’, ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ (Angus) and ‘Dead Girl Walking’ (Wickes), are great musical numbers, the music is loud and samey; despite this, the audience bops along quite happily. The cast does a fabulous job with the material that they have been provided. Their vocals, on the most part, were excellent – particularly Rebecca Wickes and Mhariri Angus who both had a real depth and breadth to their vocal range, hitting the high notes with the same clarity and pure tone as their mid-range. Equally entertaining, but perhaps for different reasons, were the two high school jocks: Ram Sweeny (Rory Phelan) and Kurt Kelly (Liam Doyle). There are no words for the orchestra other than outstanding, they were an asset to the soundtrack and score. Simon Gordon’s depiction of the cold and calculated Jason ‘JD’ Green sadly left the audience wanting – he just didn’t ooze charisma in such a way that could make you think it possible to fall in love with a psychopath.

The set is practical, both in terms of its split levels and use of props but there were some nice touches; most notably the use of the platform stage where the spirits of the recently murdered students linger. The costumes were atypical of an American high school, adhering closely to ensuring that the characters represented each stereotype: jock, geek, emo, nerd…the list goes on.

All told, it seems unfair, really ‘Heather-esque’, to penalise a cast for the shortcomings of the production’s creative team. The cast, as individual artists and as a collective, could engage even the most disinterested of theatregoers. It really is a testament to them that this production has gained the traction it has. Without their energy, talent and tenacity this musical would have audiences firmly rooted in their seats for the curtain call.

Runs until 13th November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

A high-octane, dark musical comedy

The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. 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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