Heathers: The Musical – Review – York Grand Opera House

heathers the musical review york grand opera house cast

By Tony Greenway, May 2023

Over the years, a bunch of Hollywood movies have been turned into stage musicals. There’s all the Disney stuff, naturally (think Mary Poppins, The Lion King and Frozen); and, less obviously, Groundhog Day, Legally Blonde and The Bodyguard. Inexplicably, there have also been musicals based on… er… Spiderman and Stephen King’s Carrie (seriously: those both happened and both tanked. What were they thinking?).

heathers the musical review york grand opera house jocksThen there is Heathers. This is not, admittedly, likely film-to-stage material, mainly because Heathers the movie is the very definition of ‘niche’. In fact, it’s so niche, you may have never even heard of it, let alone seen it. Released in 1989, it starred a young Winona Ryder (from Stranger Things) and Christian Slater (who, at the time, was chiefly famous for getting his kit off in The Name of the Rose) — and it bombed big time at the box office.

“Darkly funny”

But like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off before it (another financial flop), video and DVD rentals rode to the rescue and turned Heathers — a jet black satire about murderous goings-on among the cliquey pupils of a US high school — into a cult hit.

Now it’s found yet another life, morphing into a darkly funny stage musical with a book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe.

The show’s publicity warns audience members who haven’t seen the movie that the production “contains strong language and mature themes including: references to suicide and eating disorders; moments of violence; murder; sexual violence; gunshots and flashing lights.”

There’s also a sex scene. And, when I went to see it, it was still only Tuesday. No wonder the age recommendation is 14+.

heathers the musical review york grand opera house 2023


What it doesn’t say is “Heathers is seriously good, twisted fun.” And it should — because it is. That said, most of the (mainly female) audience members at the Grand Opera House in York plainly DO know this already and have clearly seen the show more than once. Some have even dressed up as the Heathers of the title and give the end of every song an appreciative ear-splitting cheer and a thunderous round of applause. And deservedly so because the musical numbers are great — particularly ‘Beautiful’, ‘Candy Store’, ‘Seventeen’,’ Our Love is God’ and ‘My Dead Gay Son’ — and the performers (every last one of them) are even better.

Jenna Innes is simply terrific as Veronica Sawyer (played by Winona Rider in the movie), a high school teen who, for reasons of self-preservation, ditches her best friend Martha (Kingsley Morton) and gets in with a trio of rich, bitchy, popular girls — Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson), Heather Duke (Elise Zavou) and Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman). But then Veronica meets and falls for damaged outsider, JD (Jacob Fowler) and the bodies start piling up. Innes, who is rarely off stage, expertly switches from high comedy to pathos throughout.

heathers the musical review york grand opera house“Breathless”

Other standouts are Thompson, who has tonnes of fun as the head Heather; Morton as the betrayed Martha; Fowler as JD; and Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson as dumb-as-rocks jocks Kurt and Ram who — credit to them — spend a good portion of the show in their underpants.

Katie Paine as a guidance counsellor gets a number that borders on audience participation and ends with her doing the splits; while Conor McFarlane and Jay Bryce play homophobic dads who perform a paean to LGBT rights at a funeral (which is, shall we say, unexpected). Director Andy Fickman keeps the pace moving over a breathless two-and-a-half hours, while David Shields’ clever set allows the performers to utilise every part of the stage.

Despite its troubling material (teen suicide, murder, sexual violence) this stage version unquestionably sanitises the film to make the character of Veronica more sympathetic and the story more palatable for theatre audiences. So why turn Heathers the movie into Heathers the Musical? Of all the films you could choose to set to music, why pick THIS one?

But then during the boisterous curtain call, with ‘Seventeen’ lodged in your brain and the audience on their feet, the answer suddenly becomes obvious.

Because it works.

‘Heathers’ is at the Grand Opera House York until May 13.
It will be at the Alhambra Bradford, July 18 – 22; and Hull New Theatre September 26 – 30.


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