TW: Suicide, Bullying, Sexual assault, School violence
This article comes with the disclaimer that I am a musical fanatic – anything said from here out can, and should, be felt with an obnoxious degree of glee on my behalf.
Since a very early age, I have been engrossed in the magic of escapism that is radiated by seeing your favourite production playing out in front of your very eyes. The beautiful way that emotion is delivered through song and dance so honestly really does make the theatre my happy place. It is the only place I can truly immerse myself for a full couple of hours, without the presence of intrusive thought or questioning where I belong. Let’s face it – if you cannot feel fully happy yourself, having elation projected into you by others is a pretty good solution.
Before the pandemic, I was due to see five musicals, which is probably a good moment to declare that the majority of my birthday and Christmas money embarrassingly goes on seeing musical productions in both London-based and local theatres and all the added expenses that come with that. Of course, film adaptions of musicals are great for those who cannot afford the luxury of West End tickets too, but that is not the purpose of this article.
Although many of these shows could not be rebooked for various reasons, when I saw that Heathers was to not only return to stage with a touring cast, but with a West End cast too, I made it my absolute priority to go.
Heathers The Musical is based on an 80s film by the same name, which follows seventeen year-old Veronica Sawyer’s journey in high school. As an outcast, she dreams of being part of the Heathers – three popular girls all coincidently called Heather. After being let into their group, she forms a romantic connection with emotionally unstable outcast Jason Dean, who has a besotted love for explosives and faking suicides. The musical uses dark humour and high-energy performances to explore themes of teen suicide; bullying; sexual assault and school violence.
Although I was familiar with a few songs and scenes before I travelled to London for the show, I in no way expected to become so infatuated. Heathers, in particular, is known by theatre-goers to have a cult-following – a concept that I did not truly appreciate or understand before I became immersed into this fandom of scrunchie-bearing adolescence myself. It has now been nearly two months since I saw the show for a second time, and I still cannot bare to play any other cast album for fear of betraying its brilliance – a way I have not felt since encountering Waitress for the first time in 2019.
The vocals of Christina Bennington (Veronica Sawyer) throughout the show were a credit to her insanely talented abilities – the facial expressions she emulated as an animate actress left me spellbound. So too did the level of detail and expression that went into Jordan Luke Gage’s take on his character Jason Dean – the emotion conveyed in the track ‘Meant to be Yours’ was just indescribable.
The comradery of the cast as a whole was also something that took me pleasantly by surprise when watching this show. Usually, you can fathom that a fair few friendships are made during a show’s run, but the bond between the cast members emulated such a family-like quality that I quickly became attached to both the characters and actors that played them off-stage – a telltale sign when watching something on stage or screen that is simply out of this world.
The elation I felt from supporting swings and covers on social media, as they bravely took on new roles throughout the show’s run at the West End, made me feel like a proud parent. When dance captain Chris Parkinson made his unexpected debut as Jason Dean with just one hour notice due to cast sickness, I fell in love with musical theatre on a whole new level. To go on for a part you have never played, nor rehearsed for, can be described in no other way than iconic.
Or perhaps I was simply in too deep at this point, to see the musical in any rational way… regardless, Heathers will now forever hold a dear place in my heart, which is one that can now only be filled by playing the cast album on a loop, and watching ‘Illegal Heathers’ on YouTube – a masterpiece infamous to all fellow theatre fanatics.
Musicals ultimately offer a community for people to geek out together without fear of judgement or feeling left behind, and escapism from the burdens of everyday life, whilst enabling you to become emotionally reconnected with yourself – that is the true magic and joy of theatre for me.
It is a sensation that I hope everybody feels at least once in their lifetime, regardless of if musical theatre sparks that for you or not. Find that thing, and never let go of it.