If you asked me to choose one show I had never seen but I always wanted to see live, I would choose Heathers. Hands down. No second thoughts or doubts about it. Since I got back into musical theatre in 2016 I have been waiting for a chance to see this show; hoping it might come to The Cucpake Theater (still waiting for that, by the way) or that it might tour or get revived. Never, in a million years, did I think I would get to see this production in the West End.
I actually didn’t go to London to see this show or think that while I was there that I would see it. I was across the pond visiting a friend who’s been interning in England for the last year and she was showing me around the city and I saw a TKTS booth (aka your discount ticket mecca if you’re not familiar) and asked, curiously, if she thought they might have Heathers tickets since it had just opened after its transfer. We saw the name on the board but just as we got in line the tickets sold out. Bummer, right? Thinking that was about my only shot at seeing the show we carried on about our merry way until we saw a discount theater tickets shop and I asked if we could see if they had Heathers tickets. To my incredible surprise, they actually did and only for that night. It was like the stars had aligned. The heavens opened up and a choir of angels sang.
To be honest, for the first time in my life I didn’t even care where the tickets were at, I just wanted to sit in that theater for what I was sure was going to be an exceptional two hours of my life. As though my luck couldn’t get any better, we got tickets in the orchestra (stalls as they’re known in that neck of the woods) and incredible seats for half the price. The sweet Irish guy who sold us our tickets raved about the show after seeing it during its previews so I was so pumped for 7:30pm to come (well, more than I already was anyway).
Once I got on the excitement train there was no getting off and I was a little nervous that the show might not live up to everything I had ever dreamed it would be. Been there, done that before (looking at you, Dear Evan Hansen) but I am literally so relieved to say that it was everything I wanted and so much more. Heathers opened at Theatre Royal Haymarket on September 3, 2018 for a 12 week run. I saw the show on September 5th for night three of this incredible production so I was really lucky to see the full original London cast and be surrounded by so many people who were so excited to be there and knew the show. It’s true what they say about how audiences influence the show and we had such an amazing group of people filling the seats that the theater felt electrified with so much positive energy. I’m sure the actors got the message we all loved their hard so much.
I bet you actually wanna hear about the show now, right? If you don’t know, Heathers is a musical adaptation of the 1988 cult classic film of the same name which starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. The musical is not an exact copy of the original dark comedy, it’s lightened up and a little altered but it highlights the heart of the story more easily. I actually prefer the musical (with a book, music, and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe who gave us the delightful Legally Blonde musical) to the film. Its characters are more relatable and the story unfolds in a more engaging way, but I don’t doubt this surprises anyone. If you’ve never seen the movie, The Other Palace, where this production of Heathers had its record breaking, sold-out workshop run, has an incredible short synopsis I’d like to share with you:
“Greetings, salutations. Welcome to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD turns up, the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it’s murder being a somebody…”
Since the show left Broadway in 2014 it’s gone through a few changes that I think are for the best. Gone is the uncomfortably sexual song “Blue” swapped in for “You’re Welcome” that’s still got the troubling thematic roots of its predecessor but is a much better song. There’s also a new song for Heather Duke that didn’t make the 2014 Broadway recording called “I Will Never Shut Up Again.” But the real talk of the town since the news about the West End transfer is a new song for Veronica called “I Say No” and it is so great. This song comes in the second act as Veronica stand up to JD to try and stop this murder spree he’s been on. I want a new cast album to hear this song over and over and over again. There’s not really any great audio of it yet but perhaps as the run goes on we might get some.
Stepping into the blue blazer as Veronica Sawyer is West End favorite, Carrie Hope Fletcher. Carrie brings a more innocent side to Veronica rather than the more angsty, rebellious teen you find in the film but it makes Veronica’s statement, “I believe I’m a good person. I believe there’s good in everyone” during the stunning opening number, “Beautiful,” the running thematic throughline of the musical. Can you still be a good person when your boyfriend’s a psychopath who’s killing people you’re helping to cover it up with forged suicide notes and if Veronica’s not a good person, which of the characters on stage is? Or are any of them? Ah, I digress. Back to Carrie’s perfomance.
Carrie is a master of comedic timing. She lands every joke whether that’s with dialogue or her reaction. One of my favorite moments was during JD’s big solo, “Freeze Your Brain” which takes place in a 7-Eleven. JD’s been singing about his crappy childhood and Veronica, trying to flirt with him, asks, “Does your mommy know you eat all that crap?” to which JD answers that she doesn’t anymore because she’s dead and Carrie gives the visual equivalent of foot in mouth. It’s priceless.
Carrie’s an incredible actress and her voice is stunning. Easily, Veronica’s most famous number in this musical is “Dead Girl Walking.”
Carrie slayed this song as though it had been written just for her. It was easily my favorite part of the musical. She’s such a treat to watch. If she’s ever over in the states in New York, count me in.
Playing opposite Carrie’s Veronica is Jamie Muscato as James Dean “JD,” her love interest and the musical’s antagonist. Their chemistry together is off the charts. Its natural and easy. Their banter is so smooth and snappy. It’s everything I wanted out of Veronica and JD.
Jamie is a powerhouse in his own right. I’ll admit, at first, just seeing some pictures of him, I wasn’t convinced he was going the best JD. Christian Slater and Ryan McCartan (the original JD on Broadway in 2014) have such a distinct “bad boy” look. Jamie seemed a little scrawny and soft but once he stepped out in that iconic jacket, slow-mo fighting with the Kurt and Ram, that smirk on his face, I was sold and that’s before his aforementioned solo, “Freeze Your Brain.” Jamie captures the charm of JD but is also so perfectly manipulative. He has these little knowing smiles and smirks that he gives both to the audience and to Veronica throughout the show and while you know that he’s a psychopat, you just have to love him. Fight it all you want, Jamie will win you over, I guarantee it.
As far as JD and Veronica go, they’re excellent throughout the whole show but they really shine during the non-stop, explosive finale where we really get to see the scary parts of JD come out and Veronica stand her ground. Those last thirty minutes are theatre at its finest almost exclusively because of Jamie and Carrie’s perfomances. I’d say that whole segment alone is easily worth the the money.
How can I talk about Heathers without actually mentionting the titular characters, played here by three stunning women.
Led by Jodie Steele (Heather Chandler, in red), the Heathers are also comprised of T’Shan Williams (Heather Duke, in green) and Sophie Isaac (Heather McNamara, in yellow). Jodie Steele’s Heather Chandler lives up to the moniker given to her by Veronica at the top of the show that she is “a mythic bitch.” Jodie just dominates when she’s on stage as any true queen bee should. Her solos in “Candy Store” were so wonderful and rough. One of the intriguing things about Heather Chandler throughout the show, though, is her cycle from mythic bitch to playful ghost back to mythic bitch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to see a softer side of her during “The Me Inside of Me” after she’s dead but it does make you wonder if that’s Veronica’s guilty conscience playing with the memory of her. Either way, Jodie’s a lot of fun to watch.
When we’re first introduced to T’Shan William’s Heather Duke we’re told she has “no indiscernable personality” and up until Heather Chandler’s death that’s pretty true of T’Shan’s perfomance of Heather, not that that’s a bad thing because we consistently see Heather Chandler tamp down anyone who might overshadow her. Once Heather Chandler’s dead though it gives way for Heather Duke to seize the open seat and wear that iconic red scrunchie of power. One of the new songs introduced into the show since its Broadway run is a solo for Heather Duke titled “I Will Never Shut Up Again” and honestly, I think that says a lot about Heather Duke’s arc throughout the show. T’Shan has a really powerful voice and I was so glad to get hear a solo from her. She knocked it out of the park.
Last, but certainly not least, my favorite Heather played by Sophie Isaacs. Heather McNamara has her claws but she’s certainly the softest Heather even despite her sometimes concerning comments to Veronica. To Sophie’s credit, her big solo, “Lifeboat” has never been my favorite song on the cast recording but I really enjoyed Sophie’s perfomance of it. Perhaps her emotional vulnerability during the song as she highlights her isolation and feelings of worthlessness really made it land with me in way that just hearing the recording can’t do.
Honestly, the whole cast is incredible. Some quick shout outs to Dominic Anderson (Ram Sweeney) and Chris Chung (Kurt Kelly) who play Westerburg’s resident idiotic jock bullies and spend half of the musical stripped down their briefs.
Their camraderie on stage is great. They’re a lot of fun to watch even though you spend a lot of time thinking “you can’t say things like that to people” but that’s all part of their charm as characters.
Even outside the acting and singing abilities of this worthy cast, Heathers is so well rounded. The lighting is great! The blocking and choreography is great! The costumes are great! My friend who’s not super into musical theatre anymore went with me ’cause she’s a great friend and throughout the week I was visiting her she kept remarking how great this show was. It’s an impressive production, but not without a fault here or there.
There’s been some talk about the way the show seems to make a farce out the suicide “epidemic” plauging Westerburg. I’m not of the same mindset. I think the show approaches it with the same irreverance that the film does but never once glorifies it. Perhaps its more heavy themes could be treated more seriously but that would betray the spirit of the film.It does clearly make its statements about bullying and sexual harrassment so I would disagree that this show doesn’t go to the same places at the film. Take that for what you will.
Heathers is, once again, playing at Theatre Royal Haymarket now until November 24th. You can get tickets at the theatre’s website or take your chance on the lottery, the TKTS booth, or stop into a little store like I did. It’s totally worth it. If you’re in the London area, DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!