September 1st, 1989. Dear Diary…
It’s actually October 20th, 2021. Location: Dublin. Mission: brave out the cold in the already long line at Bord Gáis Theatre, full of young “corn nuts” (the fandom’s adoption name) waiting, many in costume, to take their seats for Heathers: The Musical during its Irish run of its long-awaited tour, which comes to Edinburgh next month.
Mission accomplished, it was time for one of musical theatre’s most iconic shows, beloved by teenagers everywhere. An adaptation of the Winona Ryder film, the musical addresses a plethora of topics – mental health, toxic relationships, sexual assault, homophobia, bullying – with gusto and sensitivity in equal measure. The touring production of the show is directed by Andy Fickman, the director of the West End show, and is, for all intents and purposes, the exact same production with new faces but just as bright, bold, funny and dark as its fans expect.
While the performances don’t quite match up to the London production on the character front, the vocal performances are to die for. As Veronica, Rebecca Wickes presents a goofier, bubblier but perhaps more relatable protagonist than her predecessors, so much so that you can barely believe it when this un-serious character hits some serious notes during her many numbers. Equally impressive is Merryl Ansah as Heather Duke, whose rendition of the recently added solo “Never Shut Up Again” blew me away. Buoyed by great choreography, a fantastic ensemble and some memorable supporting characters, the show is packed with energy from start to finish.
And the story isn’t half bad either. With its not one, not two, but four leading ladies and one, uh, morally ambiguous leading man, Heathers is deeply relevant for the modern teen and even the modern young adult. Its bold approach to life in high school with its brutal social hierarchy validates and portrays the big messy, stress-y, insecurity whirlwind disaster many of us were once upon a time without being patronizing. It also explores toxic masculinity through the antagonists, disguised as fools, of Kurt and Ram, and toxic relationships through Veronica’s journey with JD. It has many lessons to teach about these things too, even for old folk like myself.
It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for why Heathers has such a dedicated fanbase as it does. Young “corn nuts” attend the shows dressed as their favourite Heather in throngs, with the songs memorised, ready to cheer for the most iconic lines (my personal favourite being of course the widely applicable and highly quotable “well, f**k me gently with a chainsaw”!). Is it the way the show speaks to the modern teen? Is it the dark, brooding bad boy you secretly love? Is it the quotable lines, the recognisable costumes, the songs, the characters? Presumably it is a mixture of all of these, but in any case, Heathers deserves it. I heartily recommend for a colourful, hilarious and often deeply touching spectacle – and if for some reason you don’t love it, I can only say this: what’s your damage?!
Heathers the Musical is playing at the Edinburgh Playhouse 7th-11th December 2021.