Heathers The Musical
Heathers The Musical opened last night to expectant applause and closed to a
standing ovation. This latest in the series of new modern musicals is based on Michael Lehmann’s 1989 black comedy and manages to retain all the danger, uncomfortableness and thought-provoking and no shortage of gallows humour.
Heathers is set in a stereotypical High School (think more 13 Reasons Why rather than Grease) with the usual groups of jocks, nerds, cool kids and, of course, Heathers. Here, the Heathers, 3 rich and entitled seniors, control who is in, who is out and who deserves to be just left alone.
Veronica (Jenna Innes – Les Mis, Spoonful of Sherman) is a plain Jane who wants to be noticed more and so attempts to befriend the Heathers. Usually this would be met with an acerbic put-down, but Veronica has a skill that she can forge handwriting and as such the Heathers see this (and Veronica’s not so subtly disguised beauty) as reason to bring her into the gang.
The Heathers; Chandler (Lizzie Emery), Duke (Elise Zavou) and McNamara (Billie Bowman) begin to force Veronica to turn her back on her friends and adopt their callous, snide and bitchy approach to their classmates. This doesn’t sit well with Veronica but the rewards of attention prove too big a draw to refuse so she does their bidding, albeit under duress.
Seeking someone she can confide in, Veronica falls for Jason ‘J.D.’ (Tom Dickerson) a new guy at school who she soon finds is more Lone Wulf than Lonely Soul, and he begins to lead her into revenge on the Heathers and all those who follow them.
There is no mistaking the darkness in this production; murder, poisoning, teen suicide, attempted date rape are some weighty topics but they are delivered in the guise of High School life and Director Andy Fickman hits the right level every-time. The score is a bit samey, with most numbers following the stereotypical ‘start low and end with a belt’. With the majority of the roles being teenage girls or just-pubescent boys they are all in the same register which leaves you crying out for some deeper voices.
What really let the show down however, and this was echoed by many sat around us in the circle, is the sound system - it was badly balanced & mixed which made it nigh on impossible to hear many of the lyrics & wordplay over the garbled noise. This, sadly seems all too often nowadays – in part due to composers and lyricists writing numbers which sound great in rehearsals when everyone knows what is being sung (and are in very close proximity) but who then feel that to project to a full auditorium means just crank up the volume.
Fast songs, very wordy and with multiple voices NEED gaps to allow sound waves to travel cleanly, otherwise, as they bounce off the walls etc they merge into, well, just noise. This is compounded by the fact that the sound technician is generally sat at the back of the stalls and having conducted their sound checks in an empty theatre they are unaware of the experience the circle audience are receiving. I saw some people adjusting their hearing aids to see if it would help but the general consensus was it just wasn't very clear.
Heathers is at the Darlington Hippodrome until Saturday 7th October.