Before we get into the meat and bones of this review: boy is it nice to be back in the Palace Theatre, Manchester! The atmosphere for the opening night of Heathers the Musical was electric, with it being instantly clear that everybody in attendance was happy to get back to some sort of normality.
Based on the cult classic film - which has swathes of hardcore, extremely loyal fans - writers Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, along with producers Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills, had a tricky job of ensuring they could capture the magic of the movie, whilst adding in their own dashes of pizazz and personality.
Fortunately, they were more than up to the job. In fact, the whole team of creatives, from lighting designer Ben Cracknell, who ensured each of the Heathers got their own colour-specific spotlight, to musical director of The Heathers Band, Phil Cornwell, came together to ensure that this was a night everybody lucky enough to be present for would remember.
For those unfamiliar, Heathers was originally a teen high school movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, which injected murder and black comedy into the usual mixture of challenges faced by students in their teenage years. The film is best described as marmite - you’re either gonna love it or hate it - but that’s not the case when it comes to the musical; everybody’s going to find something to love here.
Our story focuses on the young Veronica Sawyer, played expertly by Rebecca Wickes. She’s never been one to stand out at school, instead looking for a simple way to breeze by her final year so that she can move on and get to college without too much trouble. But, when the opportunity to join the ever-popular Heather Chandler, Heather Duke and Heather McNamara comes about, Veronica can’t help herself; she’ll do as the Heathers ask in exchange for ‘protection’ throughout her time at high school.
Wickes not only brings instant likability to the role of Veronica, but she’s relatable, funny and has one heck of a vocal range to boot - and she’s not the only one.
Enter new kid, J.D. Dean, played by Simon Gordon. This brooding, mysterious stranger is somebody who shows he’s not going to stand idly by and accept the status quo, fighting with jocks Kurt (Liam Doyle) and Ram (Rory Phelan) when they try to instantly grind him down and assert their authority. But he’s not going to stop there, bringing in Veronica for a bloody, lustful ride that will change their lives and that of the students at Westerberg High forever.
The chemistry between Wickes and Gordon is palpable and, despite their clear issues, you’re left rooting for them to find a way out of the mess they’ve created and make things work.
Maddison Firth, Merryl Ansah and Lizzy Parker also gel incredibly well as the Heathers, utterly believable as the bitchy, glamorous leaders of the school that will stop at nothing to retain their power. Firth delivers one of the most memorable moments of the night early in Act One, with her performance of Candy Store, in a bid to bring Veronica on over to the dark side. Despite being the ‘villains’ of this story, you can’t help but love the trio. Plus, Ansah’s costume reveal is one that RuPaul would be proud of; you’ve just got to stan.
Drawing you in with classic high school movie tropes, before turning them all on their head and shocking those new to the story with delicious twists and turns, Heathers the Musical is undoubtedly one of the best modern day stage shows, period.
Heathers the Musical runs until October 9th 2021 at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.