REVIEW : Heathers The Musical – High School high jinks of the highest quality, and an extravaganza of exceptional vocals to boot

The cast of Heathers The Musical UK Tour 2021 – Photos by Pamela Raith

Venue: Milton Keynes Theatre

Performance Date: 16 November 2021

Reviewer: Sam Dunning

Star Rating: ★★★★

1980s American High School – the setting for countless films, TV shows, books, magazines, and, as in this case, musicals. The themes and styling are almost always very familiar: the distinct popularity groups, the social pressures on troubled teens, love and angst, and numerous dramatic occurrences. However, it is fair to say that murder isn’t often the most common subject in the genre. That just so happens to be what runs heavily through Heathers though, and boy does it do it a unique but clever way!

Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s brilliant adaptation of the 1988 Daniel Waters film starring Winona Ryder is a laugh-a-minute extravaganza from start to finish. The performers all nail their heavily caricatured renditions of the familiar and in some cases identifiable roles within the storyline. Musically too, the show is fantastic, and that is mainly due to having a cast with an absolute excess of talented vocalists. Georgina Hagen as Ms. Fleming has a superb voice, Mhairi Angus as Martha Dunnstock performs a stunning solo, Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley in their guises as grieving fathers give a hilarious but still wonderfully sung duet, and the numbers that feature the entire company have some beautiful harmonies and all sound incredible.

Above the rest though is Rebecca Wickes, in the lead role of Veronica Sawyer. She is an absolute powerhouse vocally, raising the roof on numerous occasions and never missing a note. But she is far from just a talented singer. She drives the show, including narrating at times, and is a complete star from start to finish. Her timing on the punch lines she delivers is impeccable, her facial expressions are brilliantly funny, and her chemistry with each of the other characters she interacts with, particularly Jason “J.D.” Dean (Simon Gordon) and Martha Dunnstock (Angus) is so appropriately done that you never doubt her for a second.

Chemistry is definitely in abundance in this cast. The three Heathers (played by Maddison Firth, Meryl Ansah, and Lizzy Parker) are a complementary trio with excellent dynamics, Brady and Kansley play off each other expertly, and it is clear to see everyone on stage enjoys being part of the group. It is safe to say though that the two cast members who have the best chemistry, and as a result truly steal the show, are Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan as Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney, the two “Jocks”. From the moment they set foot on the stage, they are both larger than life and so endearingly ridiculous, but so undoubtedly believable, that you find yourself unable to take your eyes off them. From the little hesitations to questions (where you can almost visualise the cogs turning in academically challenged brains), to the overly macho and crude language of two highly sexually driven teens, everything they do is delivered perfectly and never fails to raise laughs from the audience – as well as a few appreciative gasps from quite a few of the younger attendees in the auditorium when their costumes… change (you’ll have to watch the show to find out more about that!)

The music from the band is superb. Loud and proud is definitely the focus, and there’s never any disappointment on that front. That said, unfortunately, there are times when the cast perhaps doesn’t have the technical support, they need to match the volume of the music, which results in some lyrics being lost or drowned out. It’s a big shame as the words are very well written and very much help to tell the story, as well as providing more of the brilliantly witty bits too.

Hilariously funny, predictable in all the right places, just enough twists and turns to keep the pace and enjoyment at a high level throughout, delivered with 110% energy by every member of the cast, and above all showcasing some stunning vocalists, it is easy to understand why Heathers is so popular and won’s Best New Musical award in 2019. Theatre has been “back” for a little while now, and although there is still some trepidation from members of the public, the industry is certainly on the rise again, and with shows like Heathers at the heart of that push back to “normality”, the future is looking extremely bright.

Runs until: Saturday 20 November and on tour

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