Review: Heathers Musical at Sunderland Empire

Review: Heathers Musical at Sunderland Empire

Heathers – Tuesday 20th June

Following two smash hit West End seasons, a record-breaking run at The Other Palace and winning the WhatsOnStage award for BEST NEW MUSICAL, Heathers the Musical, the black comedy rock musical based on the eponymous 1989 film, embarks on a new national tour.

Westerberg High’s Veronica Sawyer is just another nobody dreaming of a better day. But when she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers and her dreams of popularity may finally come true, mysterious teen rebel JD teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.

Please note that this production contains strong language and mature themes including: references to suicide and eating disorders; moments of violence; murder; sexual content; sexual violence; gunshots and flashing lights. This show does come with a pre warning for anyone who may be triggered by any of these things. Please take note. 

Heathers has continued to grow in popularity across the last few years and it is all I see over Tik Tok- it has grown such a huge fan base. It seems to resonate with the younger lovers of musical theatre and last night at the Sunderland Empire Theatre this was very apparent. There was a real mixed audience which was so lovely to see! I love seeing the younger generation enjoying musical theatre and there were so many Heathers costumes floating around too! Incredible efforts from the superfans. 

It is a very deep, thought provoking musical and a world away from what I have seen recently. I have been excited to come and see this for such a long time due to the ‘Heathers Hype’. Sunderland Empire theatre as always nail the extra touches – decorated with the huge poster when you walk in for fans to take photos with and even down to selling slushes to join JD’s obsession – time for us to Freeze our Brains! 

With the excited hustle and bustle we took to our seats. The set was incredible and looked every inch the high school. The stage was split into two distinct areas; the floor and the upper balcony area which worked really well throughout the show. Really great set design which was added to with a variety of different props to make our different scenes e.g. fences, the open window, wardrobes made for an impressive backdrop to the show. Well done to David Shields on Design on bringing this vision to life. 

The brilliant Veronica Sawyer opened up our show played by the insanely talented Jenna Innes with Beautiful. This song in particular is such a clever piece of musical theatre. I adore the lyrics to this song as they’re so moving but the freeze frames whilst Veronica introduces characters are so cleverly done. The use of a spotlight is incredibly effective- but maybe it should be called square light! She is always in a box light! The lighting was impressive throughout however, as a warning there are some flashing lights throughout Act Two! Especially the end which the lighting really brought together. Well done to Ben Cracknell on the Lighting Design! 

Back to Veronica, Jenna’s voice was delicate yet intense, the perfect mixture for Veronica who had to sing such a wide range of notes. Jenna made this look effortless as she hit so many of those belts. I do worry for the cast’s voices during this show however, as nearly every song has one of the big belts in. It’s impressive for all of us watching though! She played Veronica perfectly and we were all rooting for her in the end. 

After Beautiful, the crowd gave a rapturous applause and every single song received such high acclaim from the audience. There were clearly some super fans in our presence this evening. At the end of this song we got to meet our iconic Heathers in their incredible costumes all themed Red, Green and Yellow. I love the colour representation on stage and the girls looked amazing as they began to belt out Candy Store. Their choreography was perfectly in sync and was so effective upon the stage. 

Heather Chandler was expertly played by Verity Thompson who not only looked so stunning, but gave us the triple threat all the way throughout her performance. She was eerily good at being the Mythic Bitch and oozed confidence, sexuality and fierceness. I was honestly kind of terrified of her but equally couldn’t take my eyes off of her when she was on stage. Those slow walk backs and the standing at the back of the stage watching were brilliant – she didn’t even have to speak to command attention. 

Heather Duke was played by Elise Zavou and did a steady job. Sadly, at some points during her song Never Shut Up Again her microphone was a little quiet and it was difficult to hear. That was a difficulty I encountered throughout quite a few of the songs of the night. I hope they recognise this and maybe turn the levels up for some of the quieter parts of the songs. As a character, I really did not like Duke but I have never seen Heathers before. I actually found a few of the characters quite unlikeable but I think this may potentially be the point of the show?

Heather McNamara however, was super endearing in the second half and what a wonderful dancer. She was full of energy and bounced along the stage in her cheerleader costume. Her song Lifeboat, was so touching and sang so sweetly with passion and patience. She didn’t oversell it. It was so special and one of my favourite parts of the show. 

Fight for Me was the next song we got to hear and we were introduced to our wonderful male leads. I loved the choreography in this song and the slow motion was so believable. I did feel for Kurt with his legs in the air for that long, goodness knows how he froze like that! Kurt Kelly was played by Alex Woodward and Ram Sweeney was played by Morgan Jackson and as a pair these boys were electric. I know they were supposed to be unlikeable characters but I couldn’t help but love them throughout! Their song You’re Welcome was top tier and a refreshing change in melody as heinous as the lyrics are. Also, we can’t forget to mention they do spend the entirety of the second half in just their underwear. I was not complaining…

Jacob Fowler played Jason JD Dean in this production and had the most beautifully, sweet voice with the right amount of intensity. He played this part perfectly and as a previous boyband member, Since September, I was curious to see what he would bring to this role. He had the right amount of vulnerability and this allowed us to be sucked into this side of his character, feeling deeply sorry for him. His vocals shone throughout especially during those stunning duets with Veronica – Our Love is God and Seventeen. Seventeen has to be one of the most beautiful songs I have ever seen performed. The lyrics are eerily moving and sum up that teenage angst we have all felt. 

My final favourite character of the night and the part I resonated with the most had to be Martha Dunnstock played by Kingsley Morton. Her character is by far the most likeable throughout the show and you just can’t help but feel sorry for her. Her song Kindergarten Boyfriend was expertly sung with depth and feeling and there may have been a tear roll down my cheek for her. 

The songs throughout this whole score are just genius and the lyrics are just so original. It really is such a delight to listen to and see it all come together. My Dead Gay Son brought so much light to the beginning of the second half and really had us in stitches. The singing by Conor McFarlane was actually really beautiful as well and I was shocked by the power of his voice. Bravo, to some of the older cast as they did have several parts to play and I hadn’t realised till I’d left that he had also been the coach and Big Bud Dean! This is no easy feat but they kept their cast as small and intimate as possible. 

The band were outstanding last night as well alongside the sound crew who never missed a beat. Well done to the Musical Director Will Joy and the rest of his band alongside Dan Samson as Sound Designer. 

Clever choreography was used throughout and actually when watching nothing was overly difficult but was performed to perfection and they were all so in sync with each other. Simple, yet effective. That’s what all shows should aim for as it allows it to be so cohesive. Brilliant work Gary Lloyd on Choreography you can really see how much expertise has gone into this area. 

I also really enjoyed the reprises when moving the set behind them as this never allowed the show to come to a stand still. The cast were so engaging you never wanted to take your eyes off of them. 

Heathers was a showstopper. Such an unbelievably talented cast. What a unique, thought provoking and special piece of musical theatre. Make sure you don’t miss this extravaganza! Limited tickets are still available for the rest of the performances.

-Robyn McGough

Robyn McGough
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