Heathers The Musical

December 8, 2021 | By More

★★★★☆   Magnificent mean girls

Edinburgh Playhouse: 7 Dec – 11 Dec 2021
Review by Martin Gray

When a beloved film turns stage musical, you can bet that the original’s best-remembered line will become a song. Not Heathers, whose most-quoted piece of dialogue involves, shall we say, the recreational use of a chainsaw.

You really can’t have the kids coming out singing something like that. Still, the line’s slipped into the dialogue and the songs that do pepper this adaptation of the 1988 black comedy are pretty great, and some, like Our Love is God, do come directly from the movie.

Rebecca Wickes, Maddison Firth, Merryl Ansah and Lizzy Parker. Pic Pamela Raith

Actually, ‘pepper’ is understating it, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s show is pretty much sung-through, with few scenes depending on dialogue to move the story forward. From the minute American high schooler Veronica comes on with the opening Beautiful, it’s the numbers that carry the weight of plot and characterisation.

The song tells of Veronica’s cunning plan to survive the social hierarchy at Westerberg High by latching on to the three queen bees, who all happen to be called Heather. Learning that Veronica has a useful talent for forgery, they’re happy to give her a makeover and let her hang out with them.

friendship

But can Veronica maintain a friendship with best pal Martha when she’s spending her days playing mean girl? And how will the arrival of dreamy, book-loving JD impact her life?

The answer to that second question is ‘lots’ but at least she survives the experience, unlike several other members of the school community…

A scene from Heathers The Musical. Pic Pamela Raith

As black comedies go, they don’t come any blacker than Heathers, and the script does a terrific job of showing how a prank can spiral out of control against a background of alienation and violent emotions. Andy Fickman’s production does the script justice, balancing the many gags with moments of real drama as the uniformly strong cast end the current run with no apparent flagging in terms of energy.

Powerhouse performances abound, with Rebecca Wickes, Simon Gordon and Mhairi Angus especially impressive as Veronica, JD and Martha, proving adept at belting out such big numbers as Fight for Me and The Me Inside of Me while bringing tenderness to ballads like Kindergarten Boyfriend.

Maddison Firth gives a wonderfully comic turn as Heather Chandler, while Lizzy Parker’s Heather McNamara breaks the heart with Lifeboat. The Heathers – our third queen of mean is the splendid Merryl Ansah – get one song to themselves, Candy Store, and it is joyous.

charm, gusto and perfect pipes

The real showstopper, though, is My Dead Gay Son, a gospel lark played out at a funeral and led by Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley with charm, gusto and perfect pipes.

Georgina Hagen gets one of the biggest laughs with some unexpected audience interaction while leading a TV special on suicide. And a special award should go to Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan as jocks Kurt and Ram for service to jocks… or at least very tight underpants, playing fully half the show in the near-buff. The more than usually young audience, their mums and the odd dad certainly appreciated the boys’ commitment to their art.

A scene from Heathers The Musical. Pic Pamela Raith

The ensemble cast are tiptop too, more than earning their share of the standing ovation that came on Tuesday’s opening night.

But it’s Wickes who is the star of the show, appearing in almost every scene as smart but naive Veronica (”Dear diary, my teenage angst has a body count’), whose manic Muttley snigger hints that she’s not quite as together as she makes out.

The one aspect of the show that could have been better was the sound balance; either the music was over-amplified, or the actors were under-amplified, but at times the lyrics were lost behind the bombastic beats of Will Joy’s talented band.

wonderful production

Things were better for most of the second act – it’s likely a case of a visiting production getting its acoustic bearings in the massive, marvellous Playhouse (as with many shows made to West End theatre proportions, the set doesn’t quite fill the stage). It’s entirely possible that by the time you read this, the bugginess will be gone.

With all the necessary Covid precautions in place, and properly enforced by the Playhouse staff, you’re guaranteed a safe time – unlike the Westerberg High School community in this wonderful production.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014.
Tue 7 – Sat 11 Dec 2021
Evenings: 7.30, mats Thurs – Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Cast of Heathers The Musical. Pic Pamela Raith

ENDS

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