Review - Heathers the Musical starring Carrie Hope Fletcher at Theatre Royal Haymarket
Given its colourful design and glittery pop soundtrack, you’d be forgiven for thinking Heathers is a light-hearted coming-of-age, high school comedy, but it’s bloody dark: murder and suicide, bulimia and bullying dominate the Westerberg campus. Based on the ‘80s Winona Ryder film, this musical offering has earned a cult following over the years on the back of its zany humour and infectious soundtrack, and it now lands in the West End starring musical theatre stalwart Carrie Hope Fletcher.
Super-singer-actor-author-vlogger Fletcher is Veronica Sawyer: once-bullied, now-popular after she is taken under the wing of the schools most prestigious clic, three girls called Heather. With her new-found friends, Veronica drinks, dances, parties, and everything else in between after she meets JD, the mysterious-but-its-kinda-hot new kid at school.
Together, JD and Veronica become the school’s murderous power couple as they knock off teenagers getting too big for their boots, starting with Heather Chandler, and disguising it as suicide. As JD becomes blood-thirsty, Veronica sees the light and decides she’d rather not be with a psychotic, manipulative killer. So that’s good.
What is slightly jarring about Heathers is Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s book and score almost making light of these issues. Their upbeat, belting score is terrific and full of earworms, but the book also plays for laughs. Heather Duke is sick to keep herself thin, but it’s funny. The fact that the linebacker and quarterback of the football team being lovers, to the point they take their own lives, is funny. Blips like this make what is otherwise a terrifically fun musical feel dated and and uncomfortable for a 2018 audience.
However, if the screams in the stalls are anything to go by, this show is bringing in a new, excitable audience, partly that’s thanks to Carrie. Her personable demeanour on social media and YouTube make her relatable to – mostly – teenage girls, so she is the perfect fit to play Veronica.
And she storms it, with a performance to cement her place as a West End leading lady. She shines in songs like “Seventeen” – a duet with the equally brilliant Jamie Muscato, and is genuinely funny when she needs to be. The character of Veronica, though, feels a bit bland. When she isn’t singing, it’s almost as if most of her dialogue is a cheap throwaway line (I still don’t think I know what ‘How very’ means).
One thing for sure is that her fans will come for Carrie, but they will seek out whatever Jodie Steele does next. As head bitch Heather Chandler, she has sass down to a t and I was genuinely disappointed when I wasn’t sure we were going to see much more of her. But as a ghost, teasing Veronica from the afterlife, she established herself as a serial scene-stealer.
And that is also prevalent during the shows big numbers. Along with T’Shaan Williams and Sophie Isaacs (as Heathers Duke and McNamara), the trio interweave silky pop melodies in their satisfying “Candy Store” introduction, while Fletcher and Muscato fire on all cylinders during “Dead Girl Walking". Isaacs also provides a beautiful burst of emotion in “Lifeboat”.
Heathers is a musical for the college kids, they’re the ones who are going to see themselves in it, that will be singing these belting songs with their friends). Given it had an extended workshop at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical factory The Other Palace, I would have hoped they would have been able to strike the tone better. But I laughed, witnessed some top-class performances, and woke up singing the songs. How very.
Heathers tickets are available now.