“a lovely, joyful idea, and the sense of this was totally present on the opening night”
For those who don’t know it already (this was certainly my first time…), Studio88 is a gorgeous and intimate underground music venue just off Wardour Street. A live band plays almost non-stop, taking requests and blasting out dance floor hits and cult classics (depending on the audience) in a space that, on a Tuesday night at least, isn’t as overstuffed as you’d image a venue of this nature just off Leicester Square.
The bar plays host to a variety of events and launched its ‘One Night With…’ season this week. The idea behind it is to allow musical theatre fans to get up close and personal with their favourite West End stars, hearing them sing the hit tunes that made their name, as well as a little bit more about their lives on both sides of the stage door. Each week sees a different star interviewed and introduced by James Barr, who will host the rest of the gigs. It’s a lovely, joyful idea, and the sense of this was totally present on the opening night.
Doug Armstrong, so-called ‘YouTube sensation’, was our host on Tuesday night, at ease with his audience and quite charming to boot. His guests, Jodie Steele – known for her roles in ‘Wicked’ and ‘Heathers: The Musical’ – and Carrie Hope Fletcher – well-known author and long-serving star of ‘Les Misérables’ – were honest, funny and thoroughly entertaining, blasting out hits the fans adored from ‘Heathers’, ‘Wicked’, and – you guessed it – ‘Les Misérables’. We heard how childhood experiences helped Steele connect with her character in ‘Heathers’ and how Fletcher feels now looking back to her days as a child actor. It was genuinely interesting stuff, and a friendly and entertaining way to allow audiences to relate to the people they admire. In addition to all that, the singers and band were on top form.
For those disinterested in the world of West End musical theatre, steer well clear. For everyone else (and if the launch night is anything to go by) this will be a thrilling evening of insight and intimacy. You can feel the excitement issuing from the crowd of fans as they get within touching distance of these talented and respected stars, and all in all is a fast-track ticket to a great night out.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
One Night With …
Studio 88 returning every Tuesday
SEASON LINE UP
Tuesday October 23: Marisha Wallace, Effie White in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre.
Tuesday October 30: Claire Sweeney, star of the stage and screen.
Tuesday November 6: Rob Houchen, currently in Eugenius! as Eugene.
Tuesday November 13: Julie Atherton, the original Kate Monster in the West End’s Avenue Q.
Tuesday November 20: Jordan Luke Gage, Strat in Bat Out of Hell in the West End.
Tuesday November 27: Sophie Evans, currently Glinda in Wicked.
“if we are condemned to forever relive our past, it may as well be done like this, with a great big song and dance”
As if fearful of the present, a strain of nostalgia seems to have taken hold of pop culture. Cinemas teem with sequels, reboots, and franchise entries; discount CDs beg to be taken back to some half-remembered decade. In this context it feels grimly predictable that Heathers – correctly in this case called a cult classic – should be dredged up once again in musical form. And yet somehow, perhaps due to the utter peculiarity of the original, one wonders whether it might just work.
1989: smart and sweet-natured Veronica Sawyer subsists in the purgatory of high school. Then, in a freakishly convenient turn of events, she finds herself under the wing of the decidedly bad-natured Heathers. The Heathers – surnames Chandler, McNamara, and Duke – are simultaneously the most popular and most loathed girls at Westerburg High; led by “mythic bitch” Heather C., they seem to float above school life, making and breaking reputations at a glance. But there is also Jason Dean, known only by his initials, an outsider operating beyond understood hierarchies. The Heathers may be at the top of the social food chain, but they are a part of it nonetheless. J.D. is purely anarchist, his sardonic smile a promise of disturbance. Veronica is slowly drawn in, and so begins the dark unravelling of the Heathers’ reign of terror.
Within the first few moments, the nerves of those who feared a demolition job are calmed; led by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Veronica, the cast immediately sets out a strong stall. The ice-cold cruelty of the Heathers (Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs, T’Shan Williams) and the cool, calm, and collected J.D. (Jamie Muscato) naturally please the punters, but particularly revelatory are Christopher Chung and Dominic Andersen as bullies Kurt and Ram. Their unforeseen injection of comic relief almost steals the show completely.
The set design is as impressive as it is versatile. Grand and glorious one minute (enhanced by the grand and glorious theatre itself), football fields transform seamlessly into classrooms, bedrooms, and basements.
In spite of a few altered plot points, there’s probably very little that will upset die-hard fans. On the other hand, the music is surprising for its quality. Not that a failure was necessarily expected, but the weight of anticipation may have crushed lesser songs.
If it seems reductive that I compare the show so closely to the film, I would say only that, as a certified nostalgia piece, the play sets itself the challenge of living up to its forebear. And on the whole, I would say that it does so, but not without reservation. There is, of course, the issue of J.D.’s introduction. In the original he is set upon by Kurt and Ram, only to pull a (blank-loaded) gun on them in the middle of lunch. In this version, J.D. instead beats the living daylights out of the pair as Veronica looks on in awe. Given the stark terror of school shootings in modern-day America, it’s easy to see why the change was made, and it needn’t necessarily make much difference, except that it creates plot holes in an otherwise tight script. For example, later on J.D. loses his apparent ability to take on the jocks and receives a savage beating. What’s more, when not on school property (or when in the school basement), no such qualms about his (sometimes lethal) weapon-wielding crop up. It’s a minor point, but it is demonstrative of the wider problem of reboots trying to navigate new eras.
Some of the caustic cool that made the film so much fun has sadly been stripped out. Muscato deftly handles the transition from rebel to terrorist, but his J.D. lapses too often into a plastic Patrick Bateman impression. Ultimately these factors don’t detract much, but may leave you with nagging doubts later that night.
It would be hard to describe the show as cutting edge. If pop culture really is trapped in an endless cycle of regurgitated images, Heathers: The Musical won’t be the antidote. But if we are condemned to forever relive our past, it may as well be done like this, with a great big song and dance.