Review: Heathers the Musical at Liverpool Empire ****
Bullying, sexism, bulimia, homophobia, gun violence, alienation, and talk about suicide – granted it’s not your average night out at the Empire, even allowing for the strange times we’re living in.
But if you appreciate your nihilism served with a supersized side order of cracking ensemble numbers, sly lyrics and a two-fingered salute to political correctness, Heathers the Musical is probably the show for you.
Based on the now-cult 1989 film which gleefully subverted the peppy all-American high school genre, the stage musical may involve sequins, Opal Fruit-coloured costume combos and jazz hands but it retains plenty of the original’s dark heart.
Veronica (Rebecca Wickes who makes for a very appealing narrator/heroine) longs to be one of Westberg High’s cool kids and takes her chance to do the reigning trio of ‘Heathers’ a good deed and be admitted to their coven. Sorry, group.
But being popular means compromising on her natural sense of decency and abandoning her real friends, like the vulnerable Martha (Mhairi Angus).
Enter mysterious new boy JD (Simon Gordon) who unlike Veronica seems unconcerned with how others see him – but whose detachment soon takes a devilishly dangerous turn.
Dark it may be, but the show, crisply directed by Andy Fickman and with nifty choreography from Gary Lloyd, is also an awful lot of fun – even if you feel rather guilty for enjoying the mayhem and moments of tastelessness quite so much.
Above and top: Scenes from Heathers the Musical. Photos by Pamela Raith.
The young cast embrace every outrageous scene, some of which offer nods – consciously or subconsciously – in the direction of everything from Grease to Bill and Ted, Legally Blonde, the Breakfast Club and Wicked.
In fact, the anthem Beautiful which runs through an extended opening would be right at home in the Land of Oz.
There are some big, bold performances, not least from Maddison Firth as the uber evil queen bee Heather Chandler whose Witch of the West cackle is ferocious, even (spoiler alert) from the afterlife.
Meanwhile one of the biggest cheers of the night from its large audience of predominately young theatregoers is reserved for Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley playing the dads of entitled idiot jocks Kurt and Ram, who take centre stage in the cracking opening scene of the second half.
And while the musical wears its 80s origins lightly (the most obviously retro thing about it being the interval soundtrack), it does make those of us who were actual teenagers during the decade consider how much worse life might have been for all the misfits and uncool kids if social media had existed then too.