REVIEW: Heathers the Musical – love in a time of toxicity
A musical show based on Heathers, a subversive 1980’s black comedy film, is now playing to an appreciative Birmingham audience.
Heathers the Musical tour has arrived to the Midlands and receiving rapturous applause at The Alexandra Theatre.
After setting the West End ablaze with its music and topical themes, the show is now on a tour across the country.
The original film, which was released in 1989, starred Winona Ryder and Christian Bale in the lead roles.
The musical version of the film retains the visceral bite and sharp satire and makes the show relevant for our troubled times where school shootings continue to hit the news headlines month after tragic month.
The story follows teenager Veronica as she battles with the rigid hierarchy at her high school which is dominated by a notorious – but very popular – clique known as the Heathers.
Veronica’s life takes an unexpected turn when she meets a boy named J.D. who is on a mission to bring about some drastic change to the daily routine in their high school.
The misadventures of Veronica and J.D. unleash a series of shocking events that will result in upheaval in the lives of the students and teachers.
The story is not afraid to cast a light on high school shenanigans and taboo topics which parents and educational establishments would conveniently brush under the proverbial carpet.
The material in this teenage musical tackles controversial adult issues such as bigotry, homophobia, rape, bullying, suicide, mental health, eating disorders, peer pressure, murder and coercion.
The talented and energetic cast ensures the dark material is balanced with some light and hope which prevents the show from sinking into a murky pit and turning it into a depressing night at the theatre.
Jenna Innes (Veronica) and Jacob Fowler (J.D.) share a palpable chemistry which makes their characters warm despite the disturbing antics and mischief they get up to as the show works its way towards the dark textured climax.
Every role, big or small, is filled by a talented member of the cast who not only sing the parts but also dance and act in such a way that during some of the numbers they had the audience on its feet and clapping with ecstatic joy.
It is an absolute joy to see the cast and crew having such zesty fun that their energy inspired the audience to stand up and sing along to some of the showstopping tunes.
These performers showcase a multitude of talents that range from high octane vocals, ensemble dancing, dramatic acting nuanced with emotion, and a bubbly energy that sizzles and engages.
The production values of the show are also of a high standard with costume design that transports the audience to a 1980’s high school – blazers, miniskirts, tights – and stage lighting which glows and pulses like a feverish dream.
The anxieties and emotional transformation of the characters, and their shifting allegiances, are metaphorically reflected in the colours of their outfits throughout the show.
Director Andy Fickman and choreographer Gary Lloyd generate a pulsating thrust to the show which keeps the heavy themes of the shows from smothering the light of hope and beauty in a damaged world.
The audience participation and tongue-in-cheek heckling, including people arriving to the show dressed as characters from the show, are akin to the immersive elements seen in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and adds a layer of fun to what otherwise could have been a dark and disturbing night at the theatre.
Heathers the Musical is a bright and colourful blaze of subversive joy in a time of toxicity.
VERDICT: ★ ★★★☆
Heathers the Musical is now playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 20 May