“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw…” Heathers The Musical – based on the cult 1989 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater – is back in Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre. Adapted for the stage by Kevin Murphy (also behind another movie-gone-musical, Legally Blonde) and Laurence O’Keefe (head writer and co-executive producer on Desperate Housewives), we remain in the movie’s Ohio school, Westerburg High.
Here, Veronica Sawyer is just another nobody, until her unconventional talent gets her in with the popular girls – Heather McNamara, Heather Duke and Heather Chandler. These three Heathers rule the school – that is until mysterious, literally dangerous new kid J.D. gets involved and ‘explodes’ the Heathers’ reign.
Due to my aversion to film adaptation musicals, I gave this a miss when it was in Cardiff in late 2021. I heard nothing but positive reports, though, and it seems that Heathers is just as much of a cult favourite onstage as on film. Similar to Six at the moment, it’s amassed a young, female and queer following, and many of those younger fans were out in force Tuesday night, as evidenced by the crowd at the stage door post-show.
Heathers is a fun show, with some great tunes, although on its opening night the music was a bit too loud to hear the lyrics. Two performers who were clear as a bell, though, were the leads: Jenna Innes as Veronica, and Jacob Fowler as J.D. Despite the latter’s reckless streak, Fowler’s portrayal of him is oddly sweet and – to borrow a word from the show – damaged. Of the three Heathers, Chandler (Verity Thompson) is the standout: after she’s ‘dealt with’, she becomes more interesting, almost an extension of Veronica’s conscious. Special mention to Kingsley Morton, too, as Veronica’s best friend Martha, while Katie Paine was a fun watch as the old hippy teacher.
The stage version is a lot more bloodless than the source material – it has to be, really, it’s a musical – its edges are softened and more humorous, if still blackly so. This is still a production that deals with murder, teen suicide and the proverbial Dead Gay Sons. Add a rock-tinged score to up the enjoyability factor, and hopefully, Heathers The Musical will make its newer fanbase seek out the film too.
Heathers The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 22 Aug
On until Sat 26 Aug. Tickets: £17-£66. Info: here
words CHRIS WILLIAMS