REVIEW: Heathers The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, terms ends on Saturday

The damaged young lovers: Jenna Innes’s Veronica Sawyer and Jacob Fowler’s Jason ‘JD’ Dean in Heathers The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Pamela Raith

DEAR Diary, American school shootings keep mounting up, like Donald Trump lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Heathers The Musical grows darker still, more resonant than ever, 34 years since Michael Lehmann’s savagely satirical, subversive cult 1989 teen movie swaggered in: an iconoclastic all-American high-school black comedy with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater appeal and a died-too-young death toll to rival Romeo And Juliet.

On press night for the cult show’s first York visit, the Grand Opera House is stuffed to the brim, mainly a young crowd, the late-teen and early twenties’ “Corn Nuts”, almost all female, plus some mums, a few stray men. It will be the same all week, but with better ticket availability at the matinees.

As with The Rocky Horror Show, they know the code, not only the Heathers dress code but the performative code too, hollering at the first sighting of the too-cool-for-school, ever-so-cruel trio of Heathers in silhouette, backs to the audience in stockings, miniskirts and buttoned blazers, topped off with scrunchies, in 1989 Sherwood, Ohio.

Here comes Westerberg High School’s dead-mean clique with their croquet-mallet disdain: leader Heather Chandler (Mountview Academy 2022 graduate Verity Thompson) in red, her aspirant acolyte Heather Duke (Elise Zavou) in green and the inwardly anguished Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman) in yellow.

Lit separately in their iconic colours – courtesy of Ben Cracknell’s ace lighting design – they are cheered to the rafters, and yet they represent the apogee of the dysfunctional school’s stultifying culture of derision, bullying, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and homophobia that leads to contemplation of suicide.

Looking on, like a grumpy janitor at this freshman’s party, you might shake your head in bewilderment at those deafening cheers, but Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s musical, like Lehmann’s film before it, turns out to be savvy, sassy, switched on, unlike the blinkered school principal (Jay Bryce’s Gowan) or misguided teacher (Katie Payne’s Ms Fleming). SIX The Musical has since tapped into the same vibe.

The hateful Heathers: Elise Zavou’s Heather Duke, left, Verity Thompson’s Heather Chandler and Billie Bowman’s Heather McNamara in Heathers The Musical

Part school inspector’s report, part cautionary tale, but explosively, darkly comical too, with knowing references to Baudelaire, Sylvia Plath and Morrissey, Heathers sings of making the world beautiful in its opening number and carries that hope beyond the graves, and maybe it is the hope that kills.

How can an average joanna of a pupil thrive in such a dangerously competitive school suffused with toxicity? Meet Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes), just another nobody dreaming of better days at 17 until her misappropriation of a hall pass prompts the Heathers to take her under their cliquey wing for her skills of deception.

But what is the price of popularity amid the adolescent angst, turf wars, underdogs and bitches of the school room? Enter mysterious teen rebel Jason ‘JD’ Dean (former head boy Jacob Fowler), forever dressed in outsider black, newly arrived in Sherwood with his “deconstruction worker” psycho dad.

JD has one school lesson for Veronica: “while it might kill to be a high school nobody, it is murder being a somebody,” he rules. So begins a twisted teen relationship, as unhealthy as his love of slushy drinks, one where his desire to make school a better place can only end very differently to a jocund John Hughes movie from that era.

Displaying a resolute spirit to break the monopoly of priapic sports jocks and hateful Heathers carries fatal consequences for Veronica once she hooks up with JD on his path from mystery to misery, rebel strut to sinister, vengeful sociopath killer.

O’Keefe and Murphy take a macabre story of broken childhoods, bullying and bulimia, shootings and suicide, then add sassy lyrics and knockout music rich with drama, cheese and brutally honest balladry for an impact on an operatic scale, complemented by dialogue to die for: snappy, cynical, mardy, funny, or seriously troubling, whatever the mood.

At the helm of this classroom and locker-room teen drama is American screen and stage director Andy Fickman, who steers its adrenalised, dead-funny yet poignant path with the right balance of droll, dark and daft humour, pathos, noir cool, fun and fear (of failure, abuse and life itself).

Roll call: The Heathers The Musical 2023 tour cast on stage in the Westerberg High School hall

Choreographer Gary Lloyd, whose West End panache graced York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk in December 2020, brings the crackle of electricity to his bravura routines, especially when the Heathers go hell for Heather.

The ensemble has a ball too, especially in Big Fun, and nothing beats My Dead Gay Son, its camp abandon perfect for Eurovision week, opening the second half with a jolt of unexpected levity as Kurt’s Dad (Bryce) and Ram’s Dad (Conor McFarlane) suddenly get it on – spoiler alert – at their funeral.

Fickman’s direction, as much as Murphy and O’Keefe’s book, spreads the spotlight’s gaze beyond Innes’s steely girl-next-door, Veronica, and Fowler’s magnetic JD, a gothic brooder from a black-and-white B-movie in an otherwise Pop Art-coloured world. Her singing voice is assertive and yearning; his can enchant or ensnare like a snake with its beguiling beauty.

Red could be the only colour for Thompson’s viperous leader Heather Chandler, a warning sign of venom, but it is all a front for the needy insecurity within.

The broadest comic performances come from Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson’s dunderheaded dudes Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney, sports jerks who turn into a camp-comedy double act once stripped to their jocks.

Where Heathers nails it is in its exploration of the needle between pupils and the damage done. Both Veronica and JD sing of being “really damaged”, but the damage is widespread, best expressed in the vulnerable song cameos from Bowman’s disillusioned Heather McNamara (Lifeboat) and Kingsley Morton’s neglected and mocked Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock (Kindergarten Boyfriend).

David Shields’ mobile designs shout Eighties’ USA; Will Joy’s musical direction rocks; Heathers receives a mark of 8/10. Class dismissed.

Heathers The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, 2.30pm and 7.30pm today; 7.30pm tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm Saturday. Box office:

More Things To Do in York and beyond – outside or even in the schoolroom. Hutch’s List No. 19 for 2023, from The Press

Heathers The Musical: Too cool for school at Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Pamela Raith

FROM a dead-cool musical to a ‘Sueperfan’, a Strictly ten to guitar pyrotechnics, Charles Hutchinson has tips on how to have a better week.

School outing of the week: Heathers The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees

WELCOME to Westerberg High, 1989, where Veronica Sawyer (played by Jenna Innes) is just another nobody craving a better day, until she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers. Now her dreams of popularity may finally come true.

Enter mysterious teen rebel Jason  ‘JD’  Dean (Jacob Fowler), who teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody in Andy Fickman’s touring production with electrifying choreography by Gary Lloyd. Box office:

Federico Pendenza: Lunchtime concert at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel

Tributes of the week:  York Late Music, Reginald Smith Brindle, 1pm today; Sir Harrison Birtwistle: A New Matrix, 7.30pm today, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York

YORK Late Music pays tribute to two British composers, both Lancastrian, one a major name, the other an unjustly forgotten figure surely due for a revival.

The lunchtime programme celebrates the work of Reginald Smith Brindle, best known for his solo guitar work. Guitarist Federico Pendenza plays four works by Smith Brindle, pieces by Poulenc and a Chris Gander world premiere.

The evening’s tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle, based around the clarinet, acknowledges the work of York musician Alan Hacker, his musical associate. Works by Birtwistle, Messaien and Peter Maxwell Davies will be complemented by short pieces composed following Birtwistle’s death in April 2021. Box office: or on the door.

Lulo Reinhardt & Yuliya Lonskaya: Guitar duo at the NCEM

Guitar duo of the week: Lulo Reinhardt & Yuliya Lonskaya, National Centre for Early Music, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

LULO Reinhardt, from Koblenz, Germany, is the grandnephew of Django Reinhardt. As to be expected, Lulo has a repertoire of gypsy swing, but he has extended his musical horizons to embrace music from North Africa and India.

Yuliya Lonskaya, from Mogilev, Belarus, performs her own style of classic, folk, jazz and bossa nova arrangements. Together they make beautiful music. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Katie Melua: Love & Money tour date at York Barbican

Singer-songwriter gig of the week: Katie Melua, Love & Money Tour, York Barbican, Monday, 7.30pm

KATIE Melua, the Georgian-born, West London-based singer-songwriter, returns to York Barbican to promote her ninth album, March 2023’s Love & Money, 20 years on from her chart-topping debut, Call Off The Search.

Melua, 38, will combine such hits as The Closest Thing To Crazy, Call Off The Search, Nine Million Bicycles and If You Were A Sailboat, with songs from the new release. Box office:

Sueperfan Eleanor Higgins with her cardboard cutout of Sue Perkins

Sue Perkins superfan of the week:  In PurSUEt, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday, 8pm

IN Eleanor Higgins’s LGBT confessional comedy drama, ‘Woman’ is seated in a therapist’s office, sent there to deal with her drink problem. But she does not have a problem and nor does she need therapy. She needs Sue Perkins. They are meant for each other. If only Sue could see that too, but how can she when she is too busy being a celebrity?

‘Woman’ sets out in pursuit of her love, following Sue’s every move online, breaking in backstage at the BBC. But can she keep it all together while battling her out-of control boozing? Box office:

Chris Singleton: Giving tips on How To Be A Better Human at Theatre@41

Conversation of the week: Chris Singleton in How To Be A Better Human, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

THIS spoken-word comedy about grief and self-acceptance tells Chris Singleton’s story of losing two of the biggest relationships in his life – father and wife – in the space of a few months.

Directed by Tom Wright, Singleton uses PowerPoint comedy, autobiographical storytelling and poetry to open conversations on mental health. Finding lightness and humour in death, loss and divorce, he explores how we can lose everything but find strength to rebuild. Box office:

Can you namet them all? Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals at York Barbican

Dance show of the week: Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals, York Barbican, Friday (sold out) and May 31, 7.30pm

TEN Strictly professionals – count’em – partner up for a tour directed by the BBC show’s creative director, Jason Gilkison, promising “world-class dance, stunning choreography and sparkling sets and costumes”.

In the theatrical ensemble will be: Dianne Buswell; Vito Coppola; Carlos Gu; Karen Hauer; Neil Jones; Nikita Kuzmin; Gorka Marquez; Luba Mushtuk; Jowita Przystal and Nancy Xu. Tickets for the second performance are still available at

Pete Oxley and Nick Meier of the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project

Guitars galore: Oxley-Meier Guitar Project, National Centre for Early Music, York, May 18, 7.30pm

THE Oxley-Meier Guitar Project head for York with a new album ready for release. In the line-up are Pete Oxley and Nick Meier, guitars, Raph Mizraki, bass and percussion, and Paul Cavaciuti, drums, who specialise in melodically and texturally driven contemporary jazz.

Oxley-Meier bring ten differing guitars to each concert, including fretless nylon, acoustic and electric 12-strings, sitar-guitar and 11-string fretless. Box office: 01904 658338 or

Former head boy Jacob Fowler plays dream role as too-cool-for-school JD in Heathers The Musical at Grand Opera House

Jacob Fowler’s Jason ‘JD’ Dean with Jenna Innes’ Veronica Sawyer in Heathers The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday. Picture: Pamela Raith

IN August 2021, Leeds Grand Theatre became the first theatre in the world to host a touring production of Heathers The Musical.

Next week, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s American high-school black comedy reports back for a new term in Yorkshire, this time at the Grand Opera House, York.

Welcome to Westerberg High, school year 1989, where Veronica Sawyer is just another nobody dreaming of a better day. When she joins the beautiful, mallet-wielding, impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity may finally come true.

Enter mysterious teen rebel Jason ‘JD’ Dean to teach her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.

Playing JD, the Christian Slater role in Michael Lehmann’s savagely satirical cult teen movie, will be Jacob Fowler, whose path to stardom brings girl group Little Mix into his story.

“I’d gone to Trinity Laban Conservatoire to study musical theatre for three years, but I ended up putting my studies on hold, just before Covid, to do the Little Mix The Search talent show – and I actually won the competition!” he says.

More precisely, singer and pianist Jacob was part of the group Since September, put together to compete in the contest.

“The prize was to support Little Mix on their Confetti Tour of UK arenas. I’ve never known an experience like it when you just don’t get to do that as an average person growing up in Nottingham!

“Then in between doing the TV show and the Little Mix tour, I got my contract as first cover JD in the ensemble for Heathers.”

Jacob had first seen Heathers in his drama student days on a gala night at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and did so again in his home city in September 2021. Two months later, he was in the cast. “After only five shows, the actor playing JD had to go off and ended up being off for two weeks. He came back for a few days but then left the show,” Jacob recalls.

“I did 125 shows in that first contract, 26 as The Geek, and 99 as JD, which meant the first night of the new tour at Windsor Theatre Royal was my 100th show as JD…on Valentine’s Day! The 200th show will be while we’re in York.”

Produced by impresario Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills and directed by Andy Fickman, the tour carries the warning: “This production contains mature themes including: references to suicide and eating disorders; moments of violence; murder; sexual violence; gunshots and flashing lights.”

“It’s that age-old thing of now being more relevant than it’s ever been, dealing with homophobia and fat phobia too. Apart from racism, it touches on all these horrible things we have in society.

“You hope that with homophobia, for example, maybe some progress has been made but it’s still not enough.”

Jacob considers high-school outsider JD, symbolically always dressed in black, to have the best story arc in Heathers. “As a storyline, as a character, he has this depth, starting as a cheeky chappie, not falling for the idiots,” he says. “But then he falls in love and becomes manipulative, though he always thinks he’s doing the right thing.

“It’s a sombre thing to say, but I don’t think there’ll ever be a role like this for me again,” says Jacob Fowler. Picture: Pamela Raith

“Even at the end, he’s saying ‘let’s build a better world’ with Veronica. When he sings, ‘I’m damaged, badly damaged, once I disappear, clean up the mess down here’, I take it that this is his slight redemption. It’s more of a plea, saying, he knows what he’s done, but please change.”

Jacob talks of himself as being part of “this little group of JDs, because only 15 people have played him or understudied the role”. “From the outset, I take a lot from Jamie Muscato, who I saw on that gala night performance. He was the original JD in London, and there’s that thing that you can’t beat the first person you saw in a role,” he says.

“In fact, I’ve now met or messaged pretty much everyone who’s played JD. I’ve even messaged the original Broadway JD, Ryan McCartan, and his understudy, Dan Domenech.

“I loved the way Jamie played and sang it in London; That was my grounding, my blueprint, but of course there’s a part of any actor that can’t help but put themselves in any performance. For mine, I like to go down the line of the more psychotic JD, rather than a naturalistic one.

“Where others play him as always behaving like he’s 17, I play him with jolts and head ticks to make him look psychotic. I just started doing that, and now people come up after a show and say, ‘go on, do your head tick’!”

Jacob will be on tour in Heathers until the last week of October. “I often say to people, and it’s a sombre thing to say, but I don’t think there’ll ever be a role like this for me again – and I’m saying that when I’m only 23,” he says.

“It just happens to be that my dream role is someone so young, someone who gave me my break in musical theatre and is such an incredible role to play. Though hopefully I’ll have the chance to play the Phantom [in The Phantom Of The Opera] one day.”

Where was Jacob when he was 17? “I was at Trinity Catholic Scool in Nottingham, studying Music, Technolgy and Drama A-levels – all very ‘musical’ things!” he says.

On the Heathers scale, was he a “nobody” or a “somebody”? “I was headboy! The first head boy the school had ever had. We got a new head teacherwho brought in having a head boy or head girl for the first time,” says Jacob.

“Names were put forward and then the final three had an interview. I remember him ringing me up to tell me when I was in the bath! I think there’s a plaque at the school saying, ‘Jacob Fowler, Head Boy 2017-2018’.

“The year before, when there was no official title, the equivalent role went to Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the international cellist, and I thought it was very, very cool to follow him!”

Unlike JD, Jacob was never a rebel. “I very much stuck to the rules, though I would never bow down. I wouldn’t take anything from anyone,” he says. “I’ve never liked authority, which sounds like I’m stubborn and might not fit in with being head boy – but if someone can’t justify something, then I’d challenge it, but I’d always play by the school rules at 16-17.

“It was at such a good school, a normal state school, with such a good music department, and I was lucky to go there. I’m a real advocate for music and theatre in schools. They’re so important.”

Heathers The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, May 9 to 13, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office:

Copyright of The Press, York

May Tether in her Liverpool Empire dressing room on the night she played Veronica Sawyer for the first time on the Heathers The Musical tour in 2021

Did you know?

MAY Tether, the York Stage favourite of Goole roots, has performed opposite Jacob Fowler in Heathers The Musical in London.

“May was at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in the year above me, so I knew her already,” says Jacob. “She moved up from ‘cover Veronica’ on the first tour to playing Veronica at The Other Palace with me as JD.”

More Things To Do in York and beyond. Hutch’s List No. 2 for the road ahead in 2023, apocalyptic art et al, from The Press

John Ledger: Back To Normalism artist at Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social

IT’S time for back-to-normal service to resume as Charles Hutchinson wipes the sleep from the eyes of his diary for 2023. 

Exhibition launch of the week: Back To Normalism, by John Ledger, Micklegate Social, Micklegate, and Fossgate Social, Fossgate, York, January 13 to March 13

ON the portentous Friday the 13th, the preview of Barnsley artist John Ledger’s solo show Back To Normalism begins at 7pm at Micklegate Social. 

Ledger looks at the uncanny reality that has unfolded since the pandemic started, along with the underlying weirdness of trying to patch up the black holes in our collective experience of time, in a show about cultures uprooted and disjointed by a series of disasters and distorted by the consequences of trying to repeatedly return to a “before” moment.

Baaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhbican frustration! Ricky Gervais’s brace of Armageddon dates at York Barbican sold out in 27 minutes

Apocalypse very soon: Ricky Gervais, Armageddon, York Barbican, Tuesday and Wednesday 7.30pm precisely

ARMAGEDDON is not the end of the world as we know it but the name of grouchy comedian, actor, screenwriter, director, singer, podcaster and awards ceremony host Ricky Gervais’s new tour show.

Gervais, 61, will be torching “woke over-earnestness and the contradictions of modern political correctness while imagining how it all might end for our ‘one species of narcissistic ape’,” according to the Guardian review of his Manchester Apollo gig. Box office? Oh dear, you’re too late for Armageddon; both nights have sold out.

Chris Helme: Revisiting his days in The Seahorses

Love Is The Law unto himself: Chris Helme, solo Do It Yourself 25th Anniversary Tour, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 14, 8pm

YORK singer-songwriter Chris Helme is marking the 25th anniversary of The Seahorses’ only album, Do It Yourself, released on May 26 1997 in guitarist John Squire’s short-lived post-Stone Roses project with Helme and fellow York musician Stuart Fletcher on bass.

Recorded in North Hollywood, California, the album was pipped to the number one spot by Gary Barlow while debut single Love Is The Law reached number three. A further highlight of Helme’s solo acoustic set will be Love Me And Leave Me, Liam Gallagher’s first songwriting credit, no less. Box office: 01759 301547 or

The Lonesome Ace Stringband: Turning bluegrass bluer and grassier at Selby Town Hall

Better late than never: The Lonesome Ace Stringband, Selby Town Hall, January 18, 8pm

RE-SCHEDULED from January 20 2022, The Lonesome Ace Stringband’s gig features righteous folk and country music, played by an old-time band with bluegrass chops and a feel for deep grooves.

Band members Chris Coole, banjo, John Showman, fiddle, and Max Heineman, bass, are three Canadians lost in the weird and wonderful traditional country music of the American South, having served their time in New Country Rehab, The David Francey Band, The Foggy Hogtown Boys and Fiver. Box office: 01757 708449 or

Robert Gammon: Relaxed concert of piano music at St Chad’s

Afternoon entertainment: Robert Gammon, Dementia Friendly Tea Concert, St Chad’s Church, Campleshon Road, York, January 19, 2.30pm

AT the first Dementia Friendly Tea Concert of 2023, pianist Robert Gammon plays J S Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B flat major K. 570 and Schubert’s serene Impromptu in A flat major, D. 935 No. 2. 

As usual, 45 minutes of music will be followed by tea and homemade cakes in the church hall. Next up will be University of York Students (violin and piano) on February 16. No charge, but donations welcome for church funds and Alzheimer’s charities.

Tales From Acorn Wood: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s stories take to the York Theatre Royal stage

Children’s show of the month: Tales From Acorn Wood, York Theatre Royal, January 26, 4pm; January 27, 11am and 2pm

NLP’s world premiere staging of Tales From Acorn Wood is based on favourite stories from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s lift-the flap books for pre-school children, featuring the sock-losing old Fox, the tired Rabbit, Postman Bear’s special surprise and Pig and Hen’s game of hide-and-seek.

Suitable for one-year-olds and upwards or anyone who loves books, this 50-minute touring show is full of songs, puppetry, projection and flap-lifting technology. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Rob Auton: Getting mighty Crowded in his new stand-up show

Crowd pleaser: Rob Auton, The Crowd Show, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, February 24, 8pm; Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds, February 25, 7.30pm

CHARMINGLY eccentric, uplifting and poetic writer, comedian, actor and podcaster Rob Auton returns home to York on the 2023 leg of The Crowd Show tour.

After his philosophical observations on the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleep, hair, talking and time, now he discusses crowds, people and connection in a night of comedy and theatre “suitable for anyone who wants to be in the crowd for this show”. Box office: York,; Leeds,

Stewart Lee: Three nights, fully booked already, at York Theatre Royal in March

Too late for tickets already: Stewart Lee, Basic Lee, York Theatre Royal, March 20 to 22, 7.30pm

AFTER filming last May’s three-night run of his Snowflake/Tornado double bill for broadcast on the BBC, spiky comedian Stewart Lee returns to York with his back-to-basics new show.

Following a decade of ground-breaking high-concept gigs involving overarched interlinked narratives, Lee enters the post-pandemic era in streamlined solo stand-up mode: one man, one microphone, and one microphone in the wings in case the one on stage breaks. Tickets update: Sold out, basically.

Hands up who’s starring in Heathers: The black comedy musical to die for is heading to the Grand Opera House

Too cool for school: Heathers The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, May 9 to 13

WELCOME to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another nobody dreaming of a better day. When she joins the beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, however, her craving for popularity may finally come true, whereupon mysterious teen rebel JD teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.

Winner of the What’sOnStage Award for Best New Musical, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s black comedy rock musical, based on the 1988 cult film, makes its York debut,  produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills, directed by Andy Fickman and choreographed by Gary Lloyd. Box office:

Does too-cool-for-school Heathers The Musical make the grade at Leeds Grand Theatre? Here’s the school report

Hands up if you love Heathers The Musical. Picture: Pamela Raith

Heathers The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Saturday. Box office:  0113 243 0808 or at

LEEDS Grand Theatre is the first theatre in the world to host a touring production of Heathers The Musical.

No wonder the first-night audience was “super-excited” – everything has to be prefixed with “super” these days” – in a theatre so happy to be back to full capacity under Step 4 relaxation.

It was a predominantly young crowd, from late teens to twenties, and largely unmasked, for a show based on Michael Lehmann’s savagely satirical cult 1988 teen movie, an all-American high-school black comedy with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater appeal.

1988? Long before the stalls crowd were born, and yet the in-crowd knew the story, just as they knew the songs too – especially signature song Seventeen – from a musical premiered at Joe’s Pub, in New York City, in September 2010 but only brought over to London in 2018.

How come they cheer the first sight of the too-cool-for-school, ever-so-cruel trio of Heathers, the dead-mean clique with their croquet-mallet disdain at Westerberg High? Maybe they went down to London? Maybe they have the West End cast recording? More likely, they have tapped into the Heathers The Musical phenomenon on TikTok, apparently.

Here’s a quick refresher course for those new to class: Westerberg High pupil Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) is just another nobody dreaming of better days at school, until she joins the Heathers clique: leader Heather Chandler (Maddison Faith) and her acolytes Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah) and Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker).

Whereupon mysterious teen rebel Jason ‘JD’ Dean (Simon Gordon) – his outsider mystery denoted by always wearing black – arrives at Westerberg to teach her that “while it might kill to be a high-school nobody, it is murder being a somebody”. So begins a twisted teen relationship, sure to end more unhappily than a jaunty John Hughes movie.

Lehmann set his savvy, subversive, iconoclastic teen drama against Westerberg High’s tide of dangerously competitive, destructive, dysfunctional social rules, where you could drown in derision, potentially to the point of contemplating suicide, unless you showed the resolute spirit of a Veronica to break the monopoly of priapic sports jocks and hateful Heathers…with fatal consequences.

Now, in 2021, Heathers is darkly topical with teen suicides troubling headline writers, psychologists, parents and school heads alike, although here those suicides are being faked by a vengeful teen sociopath killer. The fact that the school principal and pupils believe they are suicides is arguably more disturbing: collateral damage amid the adolescent angst, turf wars, underdogs and bitches of the school room.

If you want everything to be heightened still more, turn a film into a musical, the opera of our times, and Heathers is duly blessed with top-grade lyrics and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, big on drama, cheese and heart-breaking balladry, for a macabre story of broken childhoods, eating disorders, bullying, lies, shootings and suicide. This is the stuff of opera indeed, but now with to-die-for snappy, cynical, yet sincere dialogue. 

Consequently, Heathers is an adrenaline shot of a show with the darkness, sharpness and sass – and the knockout tunes – to give it the allure of a Wicked The Musical or Hairspray, although maybe not quite the devoted following of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show.

Veteran impresario Bill Kenwright. who knows a winner when he sees one, is producing this tour in tandem with Paul Taylor-Mills, employing American screen and stage director Andy Frickman to steer a thrilling, dead-funny yet poignant production, one where plenty more than the two leads shine.

Wickes’s Veronica is a steely girl-next-door; Gordon’s magnetic, brooding outsider, JD, sparks love, scorn and fear in equal measure. Her voice stirs and yearns; his voice enchants and ensnares with its beauty.

Faith’s sharp-dressed Heather Chandler looks the natural, click-of-a-finger leader, venomous when provoked, but beneath the surface swagger lies needy insecurity and human frailty.

Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan’s dumb-and-dumber Kurt and Ram transform from jock jerks to lovable eye candy and camp-comedy double act once stripped to their underpants; Georgina Hagen’s teacher Ms Fleming and Mhairi Angus’s neglected Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock vie for Heathers’ outstanding vocal cameo; Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley bring bags of personality and humour to assorted school principal/dad/coach roles.

David Shields’ designs, colourful, impressively mobile, smart and very Eighties’ USA, delight too. Of York interest, Gary Lloyd, who choreographed York Stage’s 2020 pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, brings his West End panache to dance routines that fill the Leeds Grand stage with energy, slick movement and bravura style, especially when the Heathers strut to the fore.

He uses the chorus to the full too, and among the ranks is a face familiar to York audiences, May Tether, who must have caught Lloyd’s eye when starring as Jill in York Stage’s panto. Let’s hope the understudy opportunities come her way on tour because May has an exuberant talent for musical theatre that deserves to be untethered.

Dear Diary, please note a second Yorkshire chance to see Heathers The Musical comes at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from September 14 to 18. Box office:

Marks: 8/10

NEWSFLASH: 27/8/2021

HERE comes May-hem!

CharlesHutchPress concluded the Heathers The Musical “school report” with the “hope that understudy opportunities come May Tether’s way on tour because she has an exuberant talent for musical theatre that deserves to be untethered”.

Sure enough, a tweet from the York Stage favourite of Goole roots confirms May has played the female lead, Westerburg High pupil Veronica Sawyer, at the Liverpool Empire.

At 9.43 this morning, May tweeted: “So I made my debut as Veronica Sawyer in the @HeathersMusical UK tour and stayed on for the following two-show day… what a thrill, I’m still in shock, you corn nuts are beautiful! In the wise words of @OfficialTracieB I let Liverpool AVVV ITTTTT.”

May Tether in her Liverpool Empire dressing room as she plays Veronica Sawyer for the first time on the Heathers The Musical tour

More Things To Do in and around York as deathly silence is broken at libraries. List No. 43, courtesy of The Press, York

James Lewis Knight, left, as Jimmy and Matt Stradling as James in Next Door But One’s library tour of Operation Hummingbird in York

GO forth and multiply the chance to see the summer spurt of theatre, musicals and outdoor shows, urges Charles Hutchinson, who also highlights big gig news for autumn and March 2022.

Breaking the library hush: Next Door But One in Operation Hummingbird, in York, today and August 12

YORK community arts collective Next Door But One are teaming up with Explore York for a library tour of Matt Harper-Harcastle’s 45-minute play Operation Hummingbird.

James Lewis Knight plays Jimmy and Matt Stradling, James, in a one-act two-hander that takes the form of a conversation across the decades about a sudden family death, realising an opportunity that we all wish we could do at some point in our life: to go back and talk to our younger self.

Today’s Covid-safe performances are at 3.30pm at New Earswick Folk Hall and 7pm, Dringhouses Library; August 12, York Explore, 2pm, and Hungate Reading Café, 7pm. Box office:

Exit-kitchen-sink drama: Ashley Hope Allan as bored Liverpool housewife Shirley, planning a holiday to Greece in Esk Valley Theatre’s production of Shirley Valentine. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Play launch of the week outside York: Esk Valley Theatre in Shirley Valentine, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, tonight until August 28

ESK Valley Theatre complete a hattrick of Willy Russell plays with Shirley Valentine from tonight, under the direction of artistic director Mark Stratton as usual.

In Russell’s one-woman show, Coronation Street star Ashley Hope Allan plays middle-aged, bored Liverpool housewife Shirley in a story of self-discovery as she takes a holiday to Greece with a friend, who promptly abandons her for a holiday romance. Left alone, Shirley meets charming taverna owner Costas. Box office: 01947 897587 or at

It’s here at last! Heathers The Musical opens its delayed tour at Leeds Grand Theatre tonight. Picture: Pamela Raith

Musical of the week outside Leeds, Heathers The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, tonight until August 14

HEATHERS The Musical launches its touring production in Leeds from tonight with choreography by Gary Lloyd, who choreographed the debut York Stage pantomime last Christmas.

Produced by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills and directed by American screen and stage director Andy Fickman, this high-octane, dark-humoured rock musical is based on the Winona Ryder and Christian Slater cult teen movie.

The premise: Westerberg High pupil Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) is just another nobody dreaming of a better day, until she joins the impossibly cruel Heathers, whereupon mysterious teen rebel JD (Simon Gordon) teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at

Round To Low Horcum, by Sue Slack, one of the 33 artists and makers taking part in Ryedale Open Studios

Art event of the week: Ryedale Open Studios, Saturday and Sunday and next weekend, 10am to 5pm each day

THE newly formed Vault Arts Centre community interest company, in Kirkbymoorside, is coordinating this inaugural Ryedale Open Studios event, celebrating the creativity and artistic talent of Ryedale and the North York Moors.

Artists, makers and creators will be offering both an exclusive glimpse into their workplaces and the opportunity to buy art works directly. Full details of all 33 artists can be found at; a downloadable map at

Serena Manteghi: Performing in Eurydice at Theatre At The Mill this weekend

Hit and myth show of the week: Eurydice, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday and Sunday, 7.30pm

THIS weekend, Serena Manteghi returns to the play she helped to create with writer Alexander Wright, composer Phil Grainger and fellow performer Casey Jane Andrews with Fringe award-winning success in Australia in 2019.

Manteghi, a tour de force in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Build A Rocket, will be joined by Grainger for the tale about being a daily superhero and not giving in to the stories we tell ourselves.

Woven from spoken word and soaring live music, Eurydice is the stand-alone sister show to Orpheus; her untold story imagined and reimagined for the modern-day and told from her perspective. Box office:

Kaiser Chiefs: Yorkshire anthems galore at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on Sunday

Yorkshire gig of the week outside York: Kaiser Chiefs, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Sunday, gates open at 6pm

LEEDS lads Kaiser Chiefs promise a “no-holds-barred rock’n’roll celebration” on their much-requested return to Scarborough OAT after their May 27 2017 debut.

“We cannot wait to get back to playing live shows again and it will be great to return to this stunning Yorkshire venue,” says frontman Ricky Wilson. “We had a cracking night there in 2017, so roll on August 8!”

Expect a Sunday night of such Yorkshire anthems as Oh My God, I Predict A Riot, Everyday I Love You Less And Less, Ruby, Never Miss A Beat and Hole In My Soul. Box office:

Simon Amstell’s hippy-chic poster for his autumn tour show, Spirit Hole, visiting York, Sheffield and Leeds in the autumn

Comedy gig announcement of the week: Simon Amstell, Spirit Hole, Grand Opera House, York, September 25, 8pm

INTROSPECTIVE, abjectly honest comedian Simon Amstell will play the Grand Opera House, York, for the first time since 2012 on his 38-date Spirit Hole autumn tour.

Agent provocateur Amstell, 41, will deliver a “blissful, spiritual, sensational exploration of love, sex, shame mushrooms and more” on a tour with further Yorkshire gigs at The Leadmill, Sheffield, on September 12 and Leeds Town Hall on October 1.

York tickets are on sale at; York, Sheffield and Leeds at

Look sharp! Tickets are on sale for Joe Jackson’s second-ever York concert…next March

York gig announcement of the week: Joe Jackson, York Barbican, March 17 2022

JOE Jackson will play York for only the second time in his 43-year career on his Sing, You Sinners! tour next year.

Jackson, who turns 67 on August 11, will perform both solo and with a band at York Barbican in the only Yorkshire show of his 29-date British and European tour, promising hits and new material.

“We’ve been dealing with two viruses over the past two years, and the worst – the one we really need to put behind us – is Fear,” he says. “Love is the opposite of fear, so if you love live music, come out and support it!” Box office: