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.”

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