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Review | Heathers | Regent Theatre Stoke | 15/04/2023

Heathers began life in the 1988 classic film of the same name, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. From its humble initial concert performances in 2010, the musical has enjoyed a successful off-broadway run, multiple west end residencies and now on its second UK tour. Having beaten theatrical titans Hamilton and Six to bag Best New Musical at the 2019 WhatsOnStage Award’s, I jumped at the opportunity to catch Heathers at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-On-Trent.

Leading opening number ‘Beautiful’ our protagonist Veronica Sawyer (Eleanor Walsh) just wants to get through her final year at Westerberg High. Mirroring reality, there are various high school cliques. At the top of the student hierarchy are the equally admired and feared Heather’s. Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson) is by all accounts the leader of the pack, with Heather Duke (Elise Zavou) and Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman) her loyal sidekicks. After saving the Heather’s from trouble with a forged hall pass, Veronica convinces the Heather’s to let her sit with them at lunch in an effort to ensure the other students leave her alone. Becoming friends with the Heather’s isn’t as smooth as anticipated, with Heather Chandler convincing Veronica to backstab her friend. Mysterious new student Jason "J.D." Dean (Jacob Fowler) challenges Veronica on her actions. Rather than becoming enemies, Veronica finds herself attracted to him. However, J.D. turns out to be more trouble than all of the Heather’s combined…

It is important to note this is targeted at those the same ages as the characters in Westerberg High and above. Heathers narrowly treads the line between comedy and darker issues such as suicide, bullying and violence. This however makes for a much more interesting and thought-provoking show than its competition. Whilst the narrative is multi-layered with more depth than many high school based stories, it remains complex without being at any point convoluted.

Although the story is undeniably strong, the biggest draw is the music. The audience know they are in for ‘Big Fun’ from the moment the Heather’s perform fan favourite ‘Candy Store’; convincing Veronica to join their clique. The hilarious Act 2 opener ‘My Dead Gay Son’ is equally crowd pleasing, with hilarious lyrics that rival some of the best in ‘The Book of Mormon’. The music is as multifaceted as the book itself, with Kingsley Morton’s touching performance of ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ in particular getting rapturous applause. Heathers undoubtedly has one of the most exciting scores in modern musical theatre.

It is always an honour to see an understudy, but at this performance the audience had the privilege of witnessing Eleanor Walsh take on Veronica for the very first time. Walsh was a sensation and was an absolute stand out. Those lucky enough to catch one of her ‘Veronica shows’ is in for an absolute treat! Each line was delivered showed just how well she understood the role; from slightly demure in opening song ‘Beautiful’, to self-assured with her powerful performances of ‘Dead Girl Walking’ and ‘I Say No’.

Another stand out was Verity Thompson, who channelled the conceited Heather Chandler. Having recently graduated from the prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, a bright future clearly awaits her. Having seen Jacob Fowler play charming Prince Topher in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella (Hope Mill Theatre), I was interested to see how he would tackle a more sinister role here. Fowler took the challenge of J.D. and absolutely knocked it out of the park. It is always a pleasure to listen to his velvety smooth voice. The entire company are faultless with excellent solo performances from the remaining Heathers (Elise Zavou and Billie Bowman) and the superb Kingsley Morton as Martha Dunnstock.

Like the film it is based on, the musical has more than found its own cult following, with audience members dressing as their favourite characters. This is an example of when the hype of a show is deserved and worth listening to. With the tour scheduled to continue across UK & Ireland until October, this is definitely one to look out for at a town/city near you. See below for full tour and booking information:

AD: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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