Scrunchies, blazers and croquet mallets at the ready – the Heathers are in town.
The Grand Opera House York was bursting with eager fans – or should I say ‘Corn Nuts’ – as the UK tour of Heathers the Musical had its York premiere last night.
Heathers the Musical is at the Grand Opera House from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 May.
As the bell rang, we found ourselves transported into the halls of Westerberg High School, with its eccentric array of students craving popularity – and an escape from its toxicity.
The story follows teen Veronica Sawyer as she uses a hall pass to grant her way into life with the Heathers, the most popular clique in school. As she begins to learn the price of popularity, she meets the mysterious Jason Dean, aka J.D., and not only does she fall in love but she also falls into his unorthodox plans to make the school a ‘better place’.
Watch as this musical based on the 1988 film takes us through the most unpredictable series of events.
What I find particularly interesting about this musical is its extremely large fan base of teenagers, yet the narrative is overflowing with strong adult themes of sexual violence, suicide and bullying, to mention a few.
I can only hope the hundreds of young people that go to watch this musical each day walk away wanting to make the world around them more ‘beautiful’, as is the takeaway message.
During the production the spirited Ms. Fleming states ‘all students are the same’ yet this couldn’t be further from the truth, with such a diverse group of characters gracing the stage.
The leading lady herself Jenna Innes did a fantastic job as Veronica Sawyer, acting as a constant for the audience throughout the show, with very little time offstage. She had excellent chemistry with fellow characters especially Billie Bowman as the troubled Heather McNamara and Jacob Fowler as J.D.
Fowler’s character was perfection – which is a phrase I rarely use – from vocals more delicious than the Slurpees he’s addicted to, to flawless character choices throughout. His ability to go from mysterious to genuinely sinister was superb.
The musical numbers really do carry this show, with book, music and lyrics from Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe. Whilst I have still not warmed to some of the new additions, overall the numbers are strong.
As far as Act 2 openings are concerned, I don’t think you can get better than ‘Dead Gay Son’ – immediately bringing comedy back to the otherwise disturbing cliffhanger we were left on and a laugh out loud performance by Conor McFarlane and Jay Bryce.
These bigger numbers showed the importance of the phenomenal ensemble and, even with members missing for this performance, they filled the stage with their energy and the well executed, fun choreography by Gary Lloyd – especially during ‘Big Fun’; you couldn’t help but join in with the party taking place on stage.
And on the other end of the spectrum we had the stripped back numbers such as Kingsley Morton’s (Martha Dunnstock) ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ and Billie Bowman’s (Heather McNamara) ‘Lifeboat’, which didn’t need anything other than a spotlight to capture the raw emotion being given onstage. These moments enabled us to learn more about these vulnerable characters, creating great depth amongst the otherwise fast-paced storytelling of this musical.
All of this drama unravels against the high school background, a fairly simple set which uses its movable pieces to take us from scene to scene whether it’s the 7 Eleven or J.D.’s bedroom. The ensemble were responsible for these transitions which resulted in a smooth performance, no blackouts or curtains needed.
Despite having a few microphone issues, the tech was cleverly used including lighting design by Ben Cracknell. The end of ‘Candy Store’ was completed with the Heathers colours used as spotlights as they struck their final pose, and the water effect used during ‘Lifeboat’ helped support the feeling of McNamara being trapped. These may be small design choices but they helped bring emphasis to these moments.
Despite its title, it’s important to remember Heathers is more than the outstanding leads and to ‘Shine a Light’ as Ms. Fleming would say on the ensemble, band and behind the scenes crew who put together a thoroughly enjoyable production. I would recommend snapping up tickets whilst you can, as as expected they are selling fast.
Come along and have some big fun at Grand Opera House York this week with Heathers the Musical until Saturday 13 May. Tickets start from £13 and are available here.