Review of ‘Heathers, The Musical’: “A nightmare turned into a dream”

London’s bloodiest musical comedy continues to burst audiences into applause and laughter through its captivating story of love, friendship and heartless murder. Guillermo Názara tells us his thoughts on this original piece based on the famous Michael Lehman movie, to let us know who deserves to be crowned at Westerburg High’s prom… if they even get there alive!

Freak! Slut! Burnout! Bug-eyes! Poser! Lard-ass! Add the word bitch for matters of inclusiveness and there you’ll have it – a full list of all high school stereotypes featuring in (uhm… let’s count) EVERY single plotline dealing with adolescent problems. Sounds like criticism (well, that’s what reviews are for, aren’t they?), but truth is that such depictions aren’t usually too far from reality – the cause being teenage hierarchy often too scared of stepping out of their roles (either if they’re popular or the ones desperate to “make sure that they’re not like the rest”). Heathers may have been a disaster at the box office (the campy late 80s film, that is), but was certainly not a failure at showcasing a period in life that, not surprisingly, can be the reason for many Prozac-studded days – either because you hated it or because your existence can’t get any better (ouch!).

Source materials are, of course, only the starting point for any new product of entertainment – their relation with audiences not being any guarantee for their legacy (titles such as Spiderman: The Musical or Love Never Dies surely back up that claim). Despite its cult following, it’s only fair to say that Heathers was no filmmaking masterpiece, as the movie had, to say the least, a great deal of problems. However, it would not be the first time creatives see beyond a monstrous façade and spot the potential concealed under a poorly developed work – making all twists and tweaks necessary to transform it into something astonishingly different. This is not the case.

With the exception of some minor additions, Heathers – The Musical is basically the same thing – this time, though, relying on musical numbers to carry out the story. And, for some beautifully strange reason dwelling within the mystique of art, it manages to be the opposite of its counterpart: it’s actually quite brilliant. Featuring an uplifting score packed with enjoyable and, most frequently, memorable tunes, this show achieves what the film could only ever dream of: to be a hilarious and extemely fun dark comedy capable of standing out in its own genre. Penned by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe (their credits including music, book and lyrics), the piece presents itself as an exceptional parody of teenage desperation and the shallow care with which adults usually approach it.

Showing a good level of wit and cunning in some of its words, the musical accomplishes some depth while offering the viewers a much amusing ride from the very beginning. With an interesting exploration on the hypocritical side of human nature, the piece is able to compel the public (the relatability many have to the leads is, without any exaggeration, palpable in the room) but at the same time entertain in a light-hearted way despite the plot’s obscurity. All of that results in a remarkably intense pace that not only does not decay for one minute, but keeps getting better – and more than once, gives you the uncomfortable worry of time passing: you simply don’t want it to end.

Performed within the confining borders of The Other Palace’s stage, the show does however have one or two moments that are visually appealing, thanks to clever and effective blocking (this one featured throughout the whole performance) and a lighting design that despite its simplicity manages to be engaging. The production design, nonetheless, could benefit from some more imaginative improvements, as one can’t really forget the fact that it’s basically a high school set with some small props intending to take us somewhere else, but failing to do so. Regardless of the venue’s limitations, this problem could still be easily solved by the removal of the top sign on the proscenium (we already know that we are at Westerburg High, we don’t need it) and the use of backdrops or projections behind the main scenery’s windows.

There are three major bitches in this show. One is red, one is green and the other one completes the traffic lights. The red one, played by Maddison Firth, is the biggest one ever – and what a pleasure she is to watch! Extremely funny and exuding both energy and a great deal of stage presence, her performance manages to make the character incredibly hateful though always believable (we’ve all wanted to take revenge on somebody like Heather Chandler at some point in our youth… and adulthood too). On the jerks’ side, Brandon Gale gives a hilarious rendition to the role of Ram Sweeney, again showing incredible stamina and naturality while also making his part friendlier and more sympathetic. Finally, Nathanael Landskroner is an acting triumph as the psychopathic outcast Jason, continously displaying the edginess that, on the contrary, Erin Caldwell (in the lead role of Veronica) does not completely emanate. This is yet compensated by her outstanding vocal ability, a compliment that’s fairly shared by the entire cast, as their strength and perfect tuning is a much pleasant dream that never breaks.

There are many reasons to go see this show, but this is probably the most important one: it encapsulates everything that a fun night at the theatre should be all about. You’ll laugh, you’ll cheer, you’ll move and be moved, and you’ll certainly keep some memories of a musical that, as any high-spirited piece must do, will trigger a feeling of joy and amazement that only a true spectacle (no matter the budget or the opulence) can bring to you again. When I went see it there was no doubt that the auditorium was jammed by true-blue fans. And I can understand why.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Heathers, The Musical plays at London’s The Other Palace from Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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