For the uninitiated, the plot follows a dysfunctional high school, Westerburg, where social angst and teenage intransigence rule the day. Think Olivia Rodrigo but with the sourness dialled up to 17. At the eye of the social sh*t-storm are the Heathers – three masochistic girls who have the school’s eco-system tied around their perfectly manicured fingers. That is, until the idealistic outcast Veronica (“This could be beautiful”, she wishfully ruminates as she watches her classmates in the opening number) starts amassing something of a bodycount through a series of unexpected hijinks and a forbidden romance with a local fan of fulmination .
Our opinions on Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s show have already been laid out in pretty fantastic detail by two WOS critics before (in 2018 and 2021) – so the key question here is: does the musical preserve everything that made it tick on stage now that it has been immortalised in recorded form?
Casting wise, the production makes the admirable choice to stick, for the most part, to the company that had already been appearing in the show at The Other Palace (the musical has been playing at the Victoria venue since November 2021). Unlike filmed musicals such as Waitress or Kinky Boots, who brought back major stars to lead their pro-shots, Heathers lets emerging talent take centre stage.
So let’s move onto performances: the f***-you badassery of the croquet mallet-wielding, primary-colour obsessed, blazer-repping socialites all sharing the same name seamlessly transitions to film – with a trio of great performances coming from Maddison Firth, Vivian Panka and Teleri Hughes. All get their moments in the spotlight, from Firth’s pitch-perfect snide snobbery to Hughes’ naive effervescence. It’s Panka who does a magnificent job bringing down the house with “Never Shut Up Again” in act two.
Teenage heartthrob JD casts every possible shade of wallow, so it’s exciting when hit performer Simon Gordon gets to let lose with more comedic moments, including the fleeting yet fantastically funny fist fight with macho vestiphobes Kurt and Ram.
Andy Fickman’s direction favours wide shots – broadening the intimate stage at The Other Palace and giving the company a larger canvas to work with. It allows the big ensemble numbers to pop, with a smaller selection of close-ups peppered throughout adding greater dynamism and flare.
Where a lot of filmed shows, like Hamilton or Come From Away, sit their audiences in the dark, Heathers decides to bathe them in a soft purple light and cuts back to them regularly- they become a constant, vocal presence. It’s a savvy choice for a musical that has been buoyed by its fandom – cosplaying, lyric-chanting and repeat-attending. It’s the reason the show won a Best Musical WhatsOnStage Award, and the reason it has endured with such unquenchable verve and vim. It’s in North America for now, but its UK release can’t be following far behind.