Heathers: The Musical is a bombastic, colourful ride filled to the brim with catchy tunes and gorgeous camerawork, though it could lose 20 minutes.
Throughout the entirety of its 2-hour and 15-minute runtime, Heathers: The Musical (2022) feels like a fever dream. I remember watching the original film earlier this year, and, to be honest, very little about it stuck with me. So it was a good thing to me that its musical adaptation, written by Lauren O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, completely deviates from the original in terms of its tone and style. The basic premise and characters remain intact, but this high-energy, over-the-top version of the story is an entirely different beast and one I ended up enjoying a lot more.
Heathers: The Musical follows 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Ailsa Davidson) who, in a bid to get through high school unscathed, befriends the Heathers, the most popular trio of girls in the school. However, their friendship takes a wicked turn when Veronica’s new boyfriend J.D. enters the picture (Simon Gordon), and he starts to lead her down a terrifying path. The show isn’t ever afraid to go to a dark place with its story, prominently featuring issues such as teen suicide and sexual assault. Its handling of these subjects does leave a lot to be desired, as it sugarcoats them with music that can feel ripped straight out of the charts and a bright, vibrant aesthetic. There will always be something weird about a song sung by a character who’s a literal murderer going viral on TikTok.
There are a lot of things that Heathers: The Musical nails, though. The songs are popular for a reason, they’re all mostly high-energy bangers, full of catchy lyrics and performed brilliantly by the cast. “Candy Store” is arguably the most popular song to come from the musical, and I can definitely see why, with a great chorus that’s buried itself right into the back of my brain. The costume design and lighting are also brilliant, with the Heathers’ costumes being particular highlights. I will never not be a fan of trios whose outfits are three different, contrasting colours, and that’s applied beautifully here. It’s a concept that’s toyed with in the original with their costumes but exaggerated here to match the bubblegum, cartoonish aesthetic, and it’s also always nice to see that the influence of The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005) lives on.
When putting the iconic musical on the big screen, there’s been an obvious emphasis on close-ups, enabling the audience to catch moments they might have missed otherwise. Small things, like the way Veronica watches J.D. during one of their first conversations, get illuminated so much more on the big screen, with a camera pointed directly at Davidson’s face, and so we as an audience can get so much more invested in her character and their relationship. The frequent use of camera movements helps add to the high-energy production, making it feel even more alive, perfectly fitting the already established style and tone. Easily the biggest strength of the camerawork, though, is that it never once takes away from what’s unfolding on the stage: it simply adds.
With all that being said, the musical definitely has some flaws. Namely, its most major one is the length. Clocking in at over 2 hours, Heathers: The Musical feels bloated beyond belief. It’s an aspect that feels in contrast to the style of the show. For something this high-energy and over-the-top, it feels like an odd choice to drag that out over the course of such a long runtime, as eventually, the constant bombastic energy can start to irritate. During the second act, the songs started blurring together for me and I just wanted the story to wrap up, mostly in fear of it messing up what had been a brilliant first half.
At the end of the day, Heathers: The Musical is an odd beast. On one hand, it’s an incredibly entertaining watch, stuffed to the brim with fun songs and vibrant visuals that make it both a feast for the eyes and ears. On the other hand, it’s one that can easily feel uncomfortable. Whether or not you’re on board with how the show decides to tackle its themes and topics will be purely based on personal preference, but in my opinion, it definitely could have done with occasionally slowing itself down, so that it could treat some of these topics with any kind of respect. It definitely feels like a show from the early 2010s, but, for what it’s worth, it’s a very well-made and fun show from the early 2010s.
Heathers: The Musical is coming to UK cinemas for one night only on 28 March, 2023.