The adaptation of movies into stage plays/musicals has happened frequently in the last few years. An adaptation of Kenny Ortega’s 1992 movie musical Newsies premiered on stage in 2011 and even began its Broadway run from 2012-2014. Soon after national tours, Disney premiered its stage play on the big screen in February 2017. Michael Lehmann’s 1989 cult classic Heathers has a similar history. After a short run to limited audiences in 2013, the musical would eventually be brought to off-Broadway. Heathers: The Musicalwould go on to have several revivals throughout the following years, and it is currently still running in London.
The story follows a core group of high schoolers at Westerberg High, a school full of nobodies dreaming for a better tomorrow. When Veronica Sawyer, a down-and-out, socially-deprived student is taken under the wing of a popular group, all her dreams of popularity begin to turn into a reality. The Heathers don’t turn out to be all that Veronica had hoped, however. And to make matters worse, a mysterious teen rebel, JD, shows up, proving to be a terrible and violent influence despite his good looks. He teaches Veronica to fear nobody, but at a cost. And it’ll be left up to Veronica to clean up his bloody messes.
Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s music and lyrics will leave viewers filled with delight and enthusiasm for this stage production brought to film. However, the feature doesn’t always feel as big as it should be. For one, the stage design and production suffers from the contained spaces from which the actors have to work. Though Heathers: The Musical may be a vibrant experience in person, the transition to film may restrict viewers from connecting fully to its big heart. It doesn’t provide a larger than life feeling that an in-person experience would as a result. The choreography often leaves much to be desired as well. That’s not to say that Gary Lloyd’s work falls short of expectations. Rather, the smaller space doesn’t enable the dancers to move fluidly, and leads to some restraint.
Heathers: The Musical does contain some great moments that fans of the story will love. The narrative is just as good as the original, if not better, due to some tasteful changes implemented for today’s audience and social climate. Taking liberties with the script has enabled the comedy to land better. Still, Heathers: The Musical doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult topics such as bullying, violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault, and suicide — things that teenagers today know all too well. In discussing these topics through the movie musical, the script effectively portrays these concepts with care even when humor is used to offset what would traditionally be triggering content.
Heathers: The Musical has quite the history when it comes to cast members. Big names like Annaleigh Ashford and Barrett Wilbert Weed, who both played Veronica, and Jeremy Jordan and Ryan McCartan, who both played J.D. Dean, are tough acts to follow. However, Ailsa Davidson as Veronica is magnificent. She demonstrates, from the opening note, that she was made for the role and has true star potential. If ever given an opportunity to share her talents on a bigger stage, Davidson would easily succeed. Vivian Panka, who plays Heather Duke, is also a standout. Her voice can fill an entire room with joy, as any leading lady could. Truthfully, the entire cast delivered great performances, demonstrating their ability to bring joy to viewers in spite of the heavy content of the plot.
Despite a few hiccups with bringing the stage play to the screen, Andy Fickman’s musical has a lot going for it. The script contains some deeply important topics, but they are presented in a way that is amusing. The best part about his stage play, originally written by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, is that these topics are represented respectfully, but with added humor. As the story progresses, there’s a beautiful narrative that develops, enabling viewers to connect to the musical emotionally and through some of its characters. That familiar question of “am I a good person?” will linger with viewers just as it does the characters, making it a fascinating watching experience as much as it is a good time.
Heathers: The Musical premiered exclusively on The Roku Channel on September 16. It is 118 minutes long and is unrated.