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  • Writer's pictureKatie M

Heathers: The Musical Comes To The West End

(From left to right, Camila Mendes, Madelaine Petsch, Lili Reinhart and Ashleigh Murray in the CW show Riverdale's Heathers episode.)

The Off-Broadway production of Heathers has recently made its way onto the West End. With a growing cult following and a very recent Riverdale episode inspired by the show, you’re probably wondering what it’s about. Around five years after its initial run, the popular teen angst musical has now moved onto London’s West End, with even more fans than during the show’s first run.

(Above, the official poster for the Off-Broadway production.)

Contemporary musical fans will love the the 80’s inspired comedy, as well as fans of the original film, who will notice plenty of easter eggs and references throughout the show. The musical follows the original story line, focusing on 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer and Jason Dean’s relationship, as Veronica joins the most popular clique in school; the Heathers. Enjoying her newfound popularity, but hating the way the three Heathers treat their peers, Veronica winds up on the bad side of queen bee Heather Chandler. Becoming more unstable and controlling than before, JD decides the only way to help Veronica is to murder Westerburg High’s most popular students. At first unaware of her boyfriend’s real intentions for the school, she ends up in a toxic and dangerous relationship that she must learn to break free from, whilst learning to deal with the knowledge that she played a vital part in all of the chaos.

(Above, the 1988 movie poster, featuring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder.)

The show is a comedy rock-musical based off the 1988 black comedy Heathers, with the musical opting for a more comedic approach than the movie, ultimately having a more ‘feel-good’ ending. Though the darker plot points of the movie are still staple plot points in the musical, they are portrayed in a much less gory and over-dramatized way, giving way for a much funnier variation of the story. The West End version of the show comes with new songs and changes to previous songs. The creators of the musical decided to tailor the show to a younger audience, swapping out the original song ‘Blue’ for more serious number, ‘You’re Welcome’.

Heathers deals with a lot of sensitive topics. Rather than cutting them from the show, the creators decided to add in some lyric changes and some slightly more serious songs in order to create a better message for the teenage fans. Another solo number was added to the show for the leading female Veronica Sawyer, in which she decides she won’t be manipulated by JD anymore and finally stands up for herself -a message that should be promoted to young girls in particular. Heather Duke also finally receives her own solo in the UK reincarnation of Heathers; ‘Never Shut Up Again’, after being the only of the lead females in the original show to not have her own solo. This number in particular was very called for, considering how much is clearly going on for her as a character, though it was never fully explored.

(Above, Jamie Muscato and Carrie Hope Fletcher as lead roles, Jason Dean and Veronica Sawyer in the West End production of Heathers, respectively.)

Some of the main characters are notably different from their movie portrayals, aiding the musical in its attempt to create more sympathy for JD, and make Veronica more of a role-model to a young audience. In the movie, JD and Veronica’s relationship is much more abusive and seemingly less based on actual love, whereas the musical paints them as troubled teenagers who share an unhealthy but tragic love story. Heather Chandler is much gaudier in the musical, too, generally acting more over-the-top and aggressive. Movie Heather Chandler, whilst still the queen bee, isn’t quite as intimidating or powerful as musical Chandler. This sets her apart from the typical popular mean girl trope, who gets their way through being sneaky and following the most popular guy around.

(From left to right, Elle McLemore, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alice Lee as 'The Heathers' and Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica Sawyer in the Off-Broadway production, respectively.)

The mix of rock and 80’s sound throughout the show creates an exciting atmosphere, paired with cheesy dance routines and camp lyrics that will leave you chuckling or have you singing along. The lead role of Veronica Sawyer is played by author, West End performer, Youtuber, singer and songwriter Carrie Hope Fletcher for the West End version of the show. The roles of Heather Chandler, Duke and McNamara are being played by Jodie Steele, T’Shan Williams and Sophie Isaacs, respectively. Jason Dean is played by Les Misérables’ Jamie Muscato, and Rebecca Lock, known for playing Rosie in Mamma Mia! on the West End, plays teacher Mrs Fleming as well as Veronica’s mother.

(From left to right, Jodie Steele, Carrie Hope Fletcher, T'Shan Williams and Sophie Isaacs as Veronica and the Heathers in the West End production.)

Heathers deals with a range of topics that teenagers deal with in everyday life from bullying, mental illnesses, eating disorders, consent and even thoughts of suicide. The more comic approach to these subjects makes it much easier for the audience to digest and allows them to see these topics being portrayed without leaving the show feeling too heavy. After all, the original movie was a dark comedy. The movie portrays teenage life through a more nihilistic and pessimistic lense, but the creators of the musical decided that in the modern age there is already too much negativity and thought that a funnier approach would resonate more with today’s teenagers. Some of the lines in the show are definitely shocking, but ultimately not too far from how society deals with and views these controversial talking points. The satire humour is what makes the show stand out from other High School comedies like Mean Girls that came about twenty years later, but stick to more PG-rated jokes.

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