“a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece”
I approach “Heathers the Musical” somewhat as an outsider. In a seemingly packed, though socially distanced auditorium, I am detached from the majority of the audience. Although I am hoping to be drawn in, and accepted. Based on the eighties’ movie, which originally flopped only to become a cult; the musical rapidly became a cult in its own right while skipping the pre-requisite critical rejection that qualifies its status. What marks this production out from the start is the enthusiasm with which it is presented and received. Everything about it is heightened and it often feels like you are in a cartoon.
Set very specifically in 1989, it adopts the high school setting so popular at the time, but twists the genre into something much darker. It reaches further than the typical subject matter of peer pressure and rebellion and attempts to grapple with teenage suicide and the fatal attraction of belonging to a clique. The clique in question is a trio of girls, all called Heather, who hold sway with a swagger that pushes credibility to the limit. For reasons governed by plot clichés, the protagonist – Veronica – is desperate to run with this pack. To say that she eventually outruns them is no spoiler; we can all see it coming as visibly as the love interest side-line.
What rescues the storyline are the quirks, the shocks and body-count that we don’t anticipate. And the oddball minor characters that outshine the leads in most cases. Andy Fickman’s production is a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece. The more successful moments are when the volume gets turned down and the irony and sporadic subversiveness is allowed to be heard.
Christina Bennington is in fine voice as Veronica, torn between following her fantasy (in the shape of the three Heathers) or her conscience, represented by the Baudelaire reading, enigmatic Jason ‘JD’ Dean; gleefully played with a tongue-in-cheek assuredness by Jordan Luke Gage. His rapid metamorphosis from sympathetic to psychopathic is fun to watch. Less so are the eponymous Heathers; Jodie Steele, Bobbie Little and Frances Mayli McCann who screech far too much for their own good. At least Steele has the advantage of her ‘Heather’ being killed off fairly early on, allowing her to come back and haunt the perpetrators – a sardonic ghost that sheds more light and shade on proceedings than those still alive and clinging onto a script that is pulling them under.
It is buoyed up by the music that, despite its subject matter, powers the piece with energy and optimism. Bizarrely this sense of optimism and misplaced nostalgia is what characterises “Heathers” which, in effect, is a musical about high school killers. It makes light of the issues but doesn’t succeed in highlighting them by the humour. But what do I know? As I said at the start – I am the outsider; detached from the rest of the audience. There’s no denying this is a solid production, with a dream cast of West End talent. And there’s no denying its guaranteed success. It has bludgeoned its way into its cult status – but at the cost of sensitivity.
“the strong musical performances saved this damned production”
I will confess, I am new to the works of Jim Steinman and haven’t watched many West End musicals, mainly because when I was younger I felt musicals were lazy in storytelling. Since then I have been blown away by some fantastic musicals, but Bat Out of Hell brought back all those previous prejudices I held. This was a thoroughly disappointing production in a storytelling perspective. The story – very cliché; another young white boy (Strat) falls in love with another white girl (Raven) and both feel as though they can’t live without the other.
Set in an apocalyptic world in the year 2100 where diversity no longer exists (i.e if you were anything but white or mixed race sorry to say you didn’t make it in this apocalypse). The rich live in high towers and the anarchist youth have the Peter Pan syndrome as they are mysteriously genetically frozen to be 18 forever – because being 18 forever means you will never mature. Bat Out of Hell at times felt like Romeo and Juliet particularly in the scenes when Strat gazes up at Raven hidden upon her tower or Twilight when their love is in jeopardy for she will grow old and he will be young forever.
The dialogue was jarring, which of course didn’t give the actors much to work with, leaving the casts’ acting much to be desired, particularly the scenes with Strat and his crew, – leaving me often cringed at this caricatural acting. Many sins were committed on that stage (and I’m not even talking about the awkward projected sexy scene with Strat and Raven).
The set design aspect of this production really did it for me. Jon Bausor’s design transported the audience into the world of this production. I found myself discovering new aspects of the staging throughout the piece. One thing I also really liked was the concept of the projection of scenes as they were happening on stage. Although, this did lack structure and at times it really felt out of place and in those moments I struggled to understand the reason as to why the director had decided to have certain scenes project and others not. It did create some distancing from the acting, but I am always one for having a bit of Brechtian alienation (if there is a point to it).
Whilst the book and acting left much to be desired; the strong musical performances saved this damned production. Andrew Polec as the lead Strat delivered one of the best performances, filled with energy and passion. Vocally Polec really brought the house down and engaged us in his world.
Christina Bennington, on the other hand, as the spoilt and irritating Raven may have somewhat delivered musically but her overall performance was unforgiveable. Awkward to watch, lacked stage presence and honestly, as a storyline point I could not see why Strat was falling in love with this girl. Perhaps, it was solely her ‘purity’ he was wanting after all.
For me, I would have much rather have Danielle Steers (who played Zahara) in the role of Raven. Danielle’s characterisation of Zaraha, her presence and enchanting performance of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad and Dead Ringer for Love left me wanting to see more of this actress. Also, not only would Danielle have brought more talent and a fantastic performance for Raven, she too would have brought a different dimension to this character and storyline; an interracial couple, a relationship we often don’t see depicted on stage.
Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Falco and Sloane were rightly a dynamic duo. Even as disillusioned lovers, they still had a chemistry that was envying to watch. Particularly in their smash performance of Paradise by the Dashboard Light, their vocal range and performance were just incredible.
Sharon Sexton delivered a hilarious show stealing performance and was in my eyes one of the strongest actresses in this piece.
Whilst maybe cliché the audience on the opening night revelled in this production as they loudly cheered and gave standing ovations to the actors, which I don’t blame them for; the phenomenal house band and performances are what made this show entertaining. I just wish somebody else had written the book because most elements were there.
I guess Heaven Can Wait because I don’t see this production ascending to the top.