Seeing half-remembered films from the 1980s turned into feel-good theatrical musicals has been a puzzling phenomenon of theatregoing in the past few years. But the transformation of 1989’s Heathers, a commercial flop of a film about high school bullying, murder, madness, homophobia and rape, into a musical is a fairly jaw-dropping notion even by the strange standards of this peculiar practice.
The results are, perhaps unsurprisingly, a pretty rum do. On the plus side, there are some half-decent tunes, including the especially memorable My Dead Gay Son, belted out with shedloads of youthful enthusiasm and energy from an obviously talented cast, many of them making their professional debuts.
Surely, though, I was not the only person in the house to feel uncomfortable when a potential rape scene was played almost as if it were musical comedy? Similarly, high school shootings committed by discontented teens are dubious fodder at the best of times, let alone right now.
Of course, it can be acceptable to put stuff like this (as well as all the other prejudices not exactly confined to small towns in mid-America) on the stage, and I would never argue against that. But it needs to be done with the sort of precision, wit and, ideally, genuine compassion that the script of Heathers the Musical mostly lacks. However, occasionally the show does transcend its self-imposed limitations with glimpses of the genuinely bizarre, paradoxically more attractive, affair it could have been.
The reference to The Breakfast Club, for instance, was just throwaway enough to be genuinely startling, while the bold juxtaposition of Baudelaire and Bo Diddley would surely have been arcane even in the late-80s. Most daringly, bringing back some of its slain characters as ghosts was an inspired deviation from the film.
Mostly, though, Heathers the Musical was a frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful mixture of the weird and nearly wonderful with the considerably more mundane considerations of the modern touring musical.
Main image: Heathers the Musical – UK Tour 2021 – Photos by Pamela Raith.
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