Adapting a stage musical into a movie can often be a gamble because certain elements translate better on stage. This is especially true when a musical is based on a movie, which is why filming a live production of a stage show has many advantages. Filmed in London’s West End, “Heathers the Musical,” is based off of the dark and often wacky 1988 cult classic movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater.
The 1988 version of “Heathers” still remains one of my favorite high school movies. I recently rewatched it, and compared to other 80s teen movies, “Heathers” ages well in its satirical observations on high school hierarchy, toxic relationships, and suicide. In 2010 the film was adapted into a stage musical and since has found success in several Off-Broadway productions.
“Heathers the Musical” opens up with Veronica Sawyer (Alisa Davidson) addressing the audience to say, “I believe I’m a good person. You know, I think that there’s good in everyone, but—here we are! First day of senior year! And uh… I look around at these kids that I’ve known all my life, and I ask myself—what happened?” The year is 1988, and Veronica is a 17-year-old at Westerburg high, and she observes the unfair reality of less popular kids getting bullied by jocks and the Heathers. In fact, the school is ruled by the Heathers: the shy Heather McNamara, the cheerleader Heather Duke, and “mythic bitch” Heather Chandler.
Impressed by Veronica’s penmanship forgery skills, the Heathers give Veronica a makeover, and she’s invited to join their inner circle. However, Veronica learns she’s not a fan of what it takes to be popular, so she quickly finds herself drawn to the mysterious new boy, Jason ‘J.D’ Dean (Simon Gordon). J.D’s rebellious personality seems charming at first, but as the couple gets involved in several “accidental deaths,” Veronica realizes that her new boyfriend may literally be a psychopath. Soon Veronica finds herself stuck in a cycle of revenge, fake suicides, and slushies, making her beg the question, “Are we going to prom or to hell?”
If I had to pick, I prefer the movie version of “Heathers” (Stream on Amazon Prime) over the musical. The movie is darker, a little less hopeful, and some of the biting one-liners don’t always translate in the stage show. That being said, it’s difficult to capture certain artistic parts of the film on stage, and I still highly recommend watching the musical, especially if you’re a fan of the original. Plus, while the musical version follows a pretty similar plot to the film, there are still some changes and surprises. I would have liked to see more of her character’s seductive side, but Maddison Firth nails the comedic bits of Heather Chandler. Also, dull in the film, the musical gives the most forgettable Heather, Heather McNamara (Teleri Hughes), a little more depth with the beautifully sung number “Lifeboat,” where Heather addresses her anxiety and fear around the tragedies that have recently struck her school.
Davidson and Gordon make a charming and comedic pair as Veronica and J.D., even when some of their numbers drag on. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gordon’s vocals, but I suppose the whine in his voice works for J.D’s angsty character. Some of the songs are forgettable, but most of them are fantastic. Some standout numbers are “Seventeen,” Dead Girl Walking,” and “Never Shut Up Again.” The show’s best performance has to go to “Candystore,” an upbeat number where the Heathers boast about their popularity and what they do to maintain it.
“Heathers the Musical” is a poppier, more hopeful, and more candy-coated version of the original 1988 movie, but maybe that’s not always a bad thing. The show is fun and energetic, and I can genuinely say I’ve never seen anything like it on stage before. The show does tackle and often makes light of issues such as suicide, eating disorders, bullying, and abusive relationships. While those topics may be difficult for some people, the show’s satirical nature also opens up a conversation on how we react to and cope with these issues. (Stream Heathers the Musical for free on Roku TV)