Culture Writers Zainab Rao and Madeleine Stevens review Heathers the Musical, finding the production to be vibrant and comical whilst dealing with dark themes
Content Warning: This review includes references to suicide and sexual violence, and the musical also contains references to eating disorders.
Perspective One: Zainab Rao
Westerberg High returns to Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre with a talented new cast, ready to make you sing, dance and laugh along.
The story follows outcast high schooler Veronica Sawyer who convinces the cruel but popular Heathers to let her join their group. After meeting the emotionally distant new guy in town, J.D., Veronica is forced to quickly decide how far she will go for popularity and love.
Having seen Heathers the Musical at The Alexandra two years prior, I was interested to see how this experience would compare. I had found the previous performance to be vibrant and exciting, though admittedly, the comedic delivery felt corny and at times, slightly grating. This was not at all the case here, with the auditorium filled with laughter from viewers throughout the night. One notable moment was the song ‘Fight for Me’ which features J.D. engaging in a fight with bullies Ram and Kurt in an exaggerated slow motion. This scene’s comedic quality is only added to by the ensembles’ wonderfully hyperbolised facial expressions, making every corner of the stage entertaining to watch.
The ensemble were fantastic at keeping up with the show’s fast-paced choreography and were instrumental in bringing the show’s eclectic high school setting to life. Stand-out mentions have to be given to Alex Woodward’s character Kurt Kelly and Morgan Jackson’s Ram Sweeney, whose chemistry as a bewildering jock duo provided a great source of entertainment. An incredible performance was also given by Kingsley Morton’s Martha Dunnstock, who played Veronica’s bullied best friend. Her talent was apparent during her solo, ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ where she claimed the title of most powerful vocals of the entire night.
Another key singing performance came from Jacob Fowler’s J.D. in his rendition of ‘Freeze Your Brain’. His voice was mesmerising and his vocal riffs towards the end of the song was impressive. While Fowler was certainly dressed and sounded the part, unfortunately, his acting fell flat. Though J.D. is an emotionally stunted individual, there were moments where I could not tell whether his stiffness was part of the character or part of Fowler himself. As a result, the chemistry between J.D. and Jenna Innes, Veronica felt lacking. With more development towards the personalities of J.D. and Veronica, this tour will be able to achieve its full potential.
Perspective Two: Madeleine Stevens
Westerberg High takes to the stage in this singing and dancing spectacle filled with laughs and love. We follow quirky Veronica Sawyer, Jenna Innes, and bad-boy-turned-sociopath J.D, Jacob Fowler, as they navigate teenage romance and social acceptance. Veronica must decide whether she and J.D can be ‘just seventeen’, or whether her new boyfriend – and her old friends – are beyond saving.
The performance began with a captivating song, ‘Beautiful’, which showcased the impressive vocal talents of the main cast. Each member was perfectly in time, choreographing the school cliques in impressive, and sometimes scary, detail. The introduction of the three Heathers was suitably dramatic: the lights changed to a bright pink, smoke billowed through the halls, and three impeccably dressed women stalked out onto the stage ready to claim it as their own. And claim it as their own they did – ‘Candy Store’ was the next song on the list. Heather Duke was played by Summer Priest, and Heather McNamara played by Eliza Bowden; they both gave a striking performance, showcasing to the audience the power of being at the top of the food chain and the lengths they would go to stay there.
There were three unexpected stars of the performance: the unfortunate Martha Dunnstock, played by Kingsley Morton, and jocks Kurt and Ram, played by Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson respectively. Kurt and Ram provided incredible humour throughout, from their hilarious catchphrase ‘PUMP IT IN!’ to their seamless slapstick choreography (the only exception being the song ‘You’re Welcome’, a tactless take on date rape which was not the actor’s fault). For Martha, her singing voice for her solo song ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ was clear and beautiful, taking the audience on an emotional ride through her comedic, poignant, and emotional lines as she contemplates suicide.
The sound is where the majority of the performance was lacking. The microphones for the cast were often drowned out by the heavy backing music. At times the mics were turned up – unfortunately, it was at the wrong times. Veronica’s songs were so loud that they hurt my ears, which is a shame, considering her voice was fantastic. I only wish that I had been able to hear more of the cast; otherwise, Heathers the Musical reached its full potential as a poignant, dark comedy on high school life.
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