By Helen Sullivan
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How very! Heathers: The Musical has made its way to the screen in the U.S and Canada on the Roku Channel. The musical comes full circle with its return to this side of the pond after its initial premiere in LA and then off-Broadway. Heathers made its U.K premiere in 2018 with a brand new production with new songs, costumes, and set that has become a favorite of British theater fans, leading to three productions within the last year, including the current one at The Other Palace, where the pro shot was filmed. The cult favorite story of teen angst gone wrong translates well onto the screen by keeping what is so special about the stage production while also using multiple camera angles to immerse you into the story.
Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer, a senior at Westerburg High, who is taken under the wing of the “Heathers”, a popular clique of three girls with the same name. Veronica soon learns the downsides of popularity and is drawn to the new kid, JD, who charms her with Baudelaire quotes. After three “accidental” murders, Veronica wonders if there’s more to JD than literary knowledge and wants to reclaim what is left of being seventeen.
Heathers was filmed live at The Other Palace in front of two live audiences and you can hear the audience throughout. Other proshots, while also being filmed live, often reduce the audience presence to claps after musical numbers. As the fans have been so instrumental in the musical’s success, it only makes sense to include their reactions in the film. The camera sometimes shifts to the audience and I enjoyed seeing their reactions to different moments in the show.
Ailsa Davidson stars as Veronica and has truly made herself one to keep your eye on in this star-making performance. From the first note, she has the audience’s attention and proves she was made to play this part. There is rarely a moment that Veronica is not on stage and Davidson makes every use of every second. Her powerful vocals are on display throughout including standout numbers, “Beautiful” and “I Say No”. She is spot on with Veronica’s characterization as she highlights her intelligence but also her naivete that led her to befriend the Heathers and get involved with JD. Additionally, she also makes it clear Veronica is not absolved of responsibility for her actions in the show. I was fortunate to see Ailsa many times at The Other Palace and I cannot think of anyone better to be immortalized in the blue blazer.
Simon Gordon stars as the broody new kid, JD and brings many nuances to his portrayal. He brings charm and charisma but can easily switch to JD’s more sociopathic tendencies easily. Gordon shows there is much more under the surface and JD’s propensity towards violence stems from childhood trauma and some less than stellar parenting from his dad. However, he also stresses that JD is perfectly capable of autonomy and it’s his choices that end up deciding his fate. His vocals are also impressive and he shows a range from his more soft side in “Freeze Your Brain” to full-on sociopath in “Meant to Be Yours”. His chemistry with Ailsa Davison is evident and it is in some of the duo’s scenes that you can see JD trying to see the world in a better light.
Maddison Firth, Teleri Hughes and Vivian Panka are the titular “Heathers” who rule Westerbug and the show under their manicured fingers. Firth is the mythic queen as Chandler and has the best comedic timing in the show. Firth shines in “Candy Store” where she shows off her comedic and vocal skills. Hughes is wonderful as McNamara and her rendition of “Lifeboat” is one of the most beautiful songs. Her portrayal highlights the duality of McNamara’s naive and mean girl sides. Panka, the newest addition to the trio, is a firecracker as Duke and brings down the house with “Never Shut Up Again. You definitely do not want to overlook Panka, and Duke, in this film. The women have great chemistry together, despite only having been performing at the filming together for a week, and complement each other well.
Filming a musical can be tricky when you introduce new angles but for Heathers, it elevates the performance and draws attention to moments that may otherwise go unnoticed. In numbers like “Beautiful”, “Big Fun” and “Fight for Me”, you can see the reactions of all the cast with close-up shots while also getting wide shots showing the whole company. Heathers translates well on the screen while also keeping the elements of a stage production.
The Heathers: The Musical film is a love letter to the dedicated fans known as “Corn Nuts”. It is because of them the show has experienced a rejuvenation with multiple productions and now a professionally shot film. If you are a fan of the original movie or the musical, you will find something to love in this proshot. I have been lucky to see this musical quite a few times at the Other Palace and all the memories came flooding back watching this film. I loved how many of the cast members I had seen were in this film and to have them immortalized in one of my favorite shows is truly special. For those living in or near London, Heathers is playing till February 19th so get yourself down to Westerburg. I am looking forward to being at the sing-a-long in January but until then I’m going to get my Slurpee and corn nuts and sit down to watch the film on the Roku Channel!