What’s your damage, Heather? Except for the wrecked vocal chords of a few hundred people screaming as if their lives depended on it, no damages have been caused as a result of the first fully staged professional production of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s Heathers the Musical in the UK. First presented as a staged reading in 2017 as part of the Work in Progress initiative at The Other Palace, the cult musical has made its way from the studio downstairs up to the main auditorium where it is currently playing to full houses until August, which will be followed by a transfer to Theatre Royal, Haymarket for a 12 week run from September through to November.
The piece has been reworked and refined since its premiere off-Broadway in 2014 and it is much stronger as a result. O’Keefe and Murphy have managed to balance the dark nature of the plot with a great deal of humour and wit alongside an extremely catchy and boppy score. They also clearly want to the piece as good as it can possibly be as a new song for Heather Duke, Never Shut Up Again, has been added and You’re Welcome, first heard in the workshop, replaced Blue.
The material is performed brilliantly by the extremely talented cast of theatre favourites. Leading the cast as Veronica Sawyer is Carrie Hope Fletcher, who is simply marvellous. Fletcher plays the quirky role with a grounded sense of humanity, making her character seem extremely real. Her singing is also incredible. Veronica’s songs are not easy to sing at all and she smashes her way through the belt-a-minute score as though its nothing: her effortless singing is a thrill to watch and listen to. As her troubled boyfriend, Jason Dean is Jamie Muscato who reprises the role from the workshop. He is exceptionally cast as J.D, really reaching deep inside this complex character and constantly showing how broken he is. It was lovely to not see the character just be portrayed as an evil villain which could be so easily done, and instead as a fleshed out person who was acting in the only way he could see fit. His Meant to Be Yours is a masterclass in acting and, especially from the front row, was truly terrifying.
In the eponymous roles of the Heathers were Jodie Steele as ‘mythic bitch’ Heather Chandler, T’Shan Williams as usurper Heather Duke, and Sophie Isaacs as timid onlooker Heather McNamara. Having been a fan of the show since its original run off-Broadway, it was lovely to see these roles played in such a different way. They also benefited from rewrites as each character seemed like a more fleshed out character. Steele is dastardly as Chandler, possessing a steely look on her face (the resting bitch face to beat all others, if you will). Watching her own the stage toward the start of the show is great and (no spoilers) after a drastic action is taken against the character, she gets to have a great deal of fun, particularly in The Me Inside of Me and Never Shut Up Again. Williams has received probably the most of the rewrites and boy, does she make the most of it! Never Shut Up Again is perfectly suited to give the character her moment to shine, which was always missing, and she rocks it. It was also very sweet to witness her redemption at the end of the show, showing her skill as an actress. Isaacs is adorable as McNamara, revelling in the weirdness and quirkiness of her character. She nails the comedy but her version of Lifeboat is something to behold. Seeing her fall apart is very moving to watch, she performs the song beautifully and it is no surprise why she reprised her role from the workshop when it is a role that is clearly suited perfectly to her.
As Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, the school’s resident jocks turned gay forbidden lovers, Dominic Andersen and Christopher Chung relish these characters who must be great fun to play. The pair bounce off each other so well and they clearly have a great rapport. It is also frightfully clear how much more appropriate You’re Welcome is in context. Jenny O’Leary plays Martha Dunnstock, the butt of all jokes due to her weight, and her performance is absolutely stunning. The sense of unwavering optimism comes through in buckets and her rendition of Kindergarten Boyfriend was absolutely heartbreaking. Rebecca Lock absolutely smashes her dual role as Ms. Fleming and Veronica’s Mom (as well as a teenager during Big Fun, watch her during it, she’s great fun). Her Shine a Light is incredibly well sung, with her throwing an amazing new riff in at the end. Special mention has to be given to myself for my cameo as Steve (thanks Rebecca, I’ll make sure to not wear the sailor costume in public again!)
Edward Baruwa and Jon Boydon are also featured in a multitude of roles, but most notably as Ram and Kurt’s Dads and they are both great! Also deserving named special mention for how individual and brilliant they all were, are the 5 piece ensemble made up of Lauren Drew, Charlotte Jaconelli, Alex James-Hatton, Olivia Moore and Sergio Pasquariello.
The production feels extremely slick and polished because of the direction of Andy Fickman who obviously cares a great deal about this show and had been involved since the beginning of its journey. The choreography by Gary Lloyd is explosive in nature and fills the relatively small stage well. David Shields’ design is well suited to the show and the space at The Other Palace, as is Dan Samson‘s sound design which for a space which sometimes does struggle with an even sound, was brilliant. Ben Cracknell’s lighting, in particular, was brilliant and worthy of mention. Props to the production also for its all-female band, led by Simona Budd.
To sum up, Heathers has finally graced London with its presence and in what is an extremely well put together production, performed by an extremely talented and hardworking cast of theatre favourites. Although the run at The Other Palace is sold out, a lottery is being held every Friday for performances in the following week and returns may become available from the box office or online. It will begin performances at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on September 3rd and is due to close on November 24th. At this stage, other than Carrie Hope Fletcher as Veronica, a cast hasn’t yet been officially announced but this is expected in due course. Visit http://heathersthemusical.com/ for more information on the transfer and to book tickets.