Tag Archives: Christina Bennington

“Heathers – The Musical” at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Like the 1989 film on which it is based, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s musical aims for cult status. Given a brief West End run that is well worth catching, the show can make a claim for that status: the production, directed by Andy Fickman, keeps popping up and fans are as enthusiastic as the energetic performances on offer. 

Heathers has its quirks – not all of them work – but there’s a striving for originality that is admirable. The show enjoys a twisted sensibility that, in truth, has limited shock value. And you can question how the topics of teenage suicide and mass killing are handled. What, no trigger warning? Nonetheless, the show is well above average.

Twists on high-school dramas are as predictable as high-school dramas themselves. But the titular characters here, popular girls who share the same first name, are impressively repulsive. Led by Jodie Steele, who makes her role fool-proof with its brashness, the trio are fun. Our actual heroes are the real psychopaths, with roles that aren’t much more convincing, even if Christina Bennington and Jordan Luke Gage give their very best.

The music is good. This is a fine collection of rock/pop songs on the right side of late 1980s pastiche. If there aren’t enough stand-out numbers, collectively the score and lyrics are impressive. And all the numbers demand powerful vocals provided by everyone on stage. It’s rousing stuff, often funny and occasionally original. The choreography, from Gary Lloyd (also associate director), with mirroring moves to show the Heathers’ influence on others, is also strong. The production is almost entertaining enough to ignore what is actually going on.

Lauren Ward Heathers The Musical credit Pamela Raith
Lauren Ward

In common with lots of teen dramas, the adults in the piece are awful (even with the excellent Lauren Ward putting in a star turn as a hippy teacher). It might be better to excise them altogether. And while strong female characters are welcome, might balance help? I think every named male character is either a potential rapist, a closeted homosexual or a serial killer!

Following the movie closely makes the plot cumbersome on stage. Murphy and O’Keefe’s tweaks are good – especially having victims appear as ghosts, not least because we get to see more of Steele – but they only add to a plot that starts to become unwieldy. And we do have to address the very serious subject matter. Not because musicals can’t tackle such subjects, or that humour shouldn’t be used to examine them, but because Heathers doesn’t deal with violence well. In a long show, questions of motive and morality are shoehorned in or glossed over. A too speedy resolution and homespun wisdom tacked on don’t do the subject – or the show – justice.

Until 11 September 2021


Photos by Pamela Raith

“Bat Out of Hell” at the Dominion Theatre

Unlike many musicals based on a back catalogue, you don’t need to be a fan of composer Jim Steinman to enjoy this piece. The music, as its regular performer Meat Loaf appreciated, has a theatricality that transfers easily to the stage. Top-notch production values and performances make the ticket safe value. And there’s an injection of insanity that ensures the show stands out.

As with a previous hit at the Dominion, We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen, the book for the show, also by Steinman, is set in a dystopian future. A mutation fixing our hero Strat at the age of 18 results in a strange Peter Pan figure. Leaving aside his odd taste in poetry, it makes an ethereally bizarre lead for Andrew Polec, who takes on the part with astonishing bravado. Polec doesn’t deliver a single note without treating it like grand opera and barely stays still for a moment.

Strat falls for Raven, daughter of the dastardly Falco, enemy to Strat’s particular Lost Boys. Why he’s a villain isn’t that clear as the focus is on his marriage. Whatever, there are great performances from Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as both parents, and a look back on their courting is a real highlight. As for Raven, a sincere effort has been made with the role and Christina Bennington tries her best. But let’s just say she still ends up, well… straddling… rather a lot. Add to the Romeo and Juliet vibe, a bizarre Tink(erbell) for Strat’s Rebel Without A Cause, a younger Sal Mineo character  who’s devoted until spurned. There’s no lack of narrative, and it’s all great fun. Remember everyone is as camp as Christmas and the whole thing becomes brilliantly mad.

The music itself is well constructed – you don’t sell as many records as Steinman without knowing a thing or two – but the triumph for the show comes with Robert Emery’s musical direction and Steve Sidwell’s orchestration. Variety is injected into even those famous ballads, adapted into ensemble pieces with performers belting them out. Some of the lyrics are shocking – “You’re a ghost and I’ve been cursed but if you were exorcised it would only make it worse” – but, no matter how bad they are, Steinman repeats lines (a lot) injecting a mock profundity that becomes infectious. To top it all is Jon Bausor’s design, which has two sequences, a bike crash and a drug-induced dream, that use stunning special effects. Such technical skill combined with the inexplicably goofy make Bat Out of Hell jaw-droppingly great.

Until 5 January 2019


Photo by Specular