Having never heard of this 1989 cult teen film, I was half expecting another jukebox-style show when Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills' stage production of Heathers the Musical rolled into Milton Keynes Theatre tonight, writes Alan Wooding.
So what a shock to hear an original soundtrack in a show which tackles all manner of often taboo subjects. There's certainly a hint of darkness throughout including homophobia, bullying, teen suicide, rape and sexual assault… but thankfully there's also a smattering of welcome humour.
The original film was a showcase for Hollywood stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater while it's set in Sherwood Ohio's Westerberg High School where there's no such thing as equality as so many pupils are forced to fight for their very survival.
We meet slightly geeky 17-year-old nobody Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) who together with her uncool best friend Martha Dunstock (Mhairi Angus) are terrorised at lunchtimes by comical school hunks Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly played by Rory Phelan and Liam Doyle respectively.
However Veronica soon realises that if she is to survive and fit in, then she needs to find a way to become popular. She decides to drop Martha and join up with the beautiful shoulder-padded, long socks, scrunchie-wearing trio known as the Heathers – Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth), Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah) and Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker). They're a clique of popular and wealthy, yet extremely nasty, young ladies who are the true bosses of Westerberg High which lived up to its 'Home of the Rottweilers' mantle.
Veronica's whole attitude certainly changes as she begins to dress like the deranged threesome, although she soon realises the error of her ways after meeting up with the mysterious but super cool Jason 'JD' Dean (Simon Gordon) who is something of a kindred spirit.
JD wants to make school, and the world in general, a better place so he plans to get rid those he considers unworthy of living in it and it starts with Westerberg High's head girl Heather Chandler – and then a home-made bomb! Basically it’s a musical about a young girl who falls for what can only be described as a crazed psychopath and the penny soon drops for her at one of Ram's parties!
There's a rocking musical score from award-winning writing team Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s which seems to pack a punch while the 18-strong high-energy cast certainly worked their socks off and, in particular, Maddison Firth as Heather Chandler who was not only vocally impressive – and often rather screechy! – but she was reminiscent of a sexy Britney Spears holding a croquet mallet!
But it's Rebecca Wickes as Veronica who really attacked the songs with vulnerability and enthusiasm although she often emitted a strange cackling sound which was infectious. She seems to be on stage throughout the whole show and she gives a totally believable performance, her role is almost that of a narrator and she keeps mentioning her diary… shades of a weird female Adrian Mole perhaps!
I did enjoy Mhairi Angus (Martha) whose 'Kindergarten Boyfriend’ number was rather touching and it brought the house down in the Second Act. And that was unlike the creepy and deranged 'JD' (Simon Gordon) who was evil beyond belief and he lived up to his ‘I Am Damaged' solo.
However the best comedy number was undoubtedly staged at the funeral for Ram and Kurt whose grieving fathers (Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley) sang 'My Dead Gay Son' which could have fitted comfortably into The Rocky Horror Show.
Heathers the Musical certainly features some cruel and freaky members of society and it will certainly resonate with anyone who has suffered persistent bullying. There's an often crude, sweary dialogue and some gruesome deaths so be warned, it's not really a show you might wish to take your young offspring to see!
The final reprise song 'Seventeen' sung by Veronica and a wheelchair seated Martha attempts to make things better – ‘We’ll make it beautiful, we're done with acting evil, we'll lay our weapons down’ – in an attempt to bring an end to the Heathers clique.
Full marks to the show's director Andy Fickman and Thriller Live choreographer Gary Lloyd who gave us some great dance sequences. Meanwhile Ben Cracknell was responsible for the clever lighting set, Dan Samson the sound and David Shields the set design while the six piece Heathers' band never missed a beat under the direction of Will Joy... although at times they often drowned out the vocals.
Personal Verdict: By the time Heathers reached the interval, I had contemplated missing the Second Act altogether as I really struggled to hear the lyrics thanks to the actors' American drawl and an over-enthusiastic band. Thankfully I stayed and in general enjoyed the majority of the remainder. One thing that didn't resonate with me was the musical score, for there wasn't a single number which I could actually recall on the way home – so thank goodness I made notes as the story unfolded. The adoring youthful audience certainly gave a huge standing ovation, so perhaps I was simply the odd one out!
Heathers the Musical is a show which clearly has a huge fan base and it plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday with tickets from the Box Office on 0844 871 7652 or online at www.atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes (booking fees apply).