Theatre Royal Haymarket, London ★★★★✩
WHEN the cult movie Heathers, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, was released in 1989, multiple murder in American high schools wasn’t the thing it is today. Columbine happened a decade later. Many more Columbines followed.
So the plot of this dark yet feel-good musical version — geeky girl falls for killer boy — often chimes uneasily with real events.
At heart this funny and disturbing show understands what it is to be a teen tormented by insecurity and afraid of school bullies. And that, along with a soaring score by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, just about saves Andy Fickman’s terrifically-performed production from feeling like a dirty joke at a funeral. In a bid to become popular, nerdy Veronica (Carrie Hope Fletcher) befriends the three feared and lusted-after Heathers, a bitchy, preened trio of students, or as Veronica calls them, ‘the lipstick Gestapo’.
Enter mysterious new boy JD (Jamie Muscato), a well-read ‘Baudelaire-quoting badass’ who gives Veronica all the emotional support she needs by killing anyone who makes her cry. They make a lovely couple. No, really they do. Particularly when they sing. Seventeen, a stirring hymn to the idea of being a carefree teen is one of the best — and best sung — duets on the London stage.
Fletcher’s voice is powerful enough to resurrect the show’s dead, though the key to her likeable Veronica is her range of self-deprecating grimaces whenever she puts her foot in her mouth. Muscato is also terrific as the brooding, dashing, murdering JD.
Yet, a bit like his victims, the ghosts from real-life high school massacres never quite stop haunting this show. Thoughts turn to Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High where 17 were shot dead this year, and the brave survivors who took on Trump and America’s gun lobby in the cause of weapon control. Now what a musical that would make.