"Dear diary, my teenage bullshit has a body count."
- Veronica Sawyer
Based on the 1989 cult film, Heathers: The Musical is exactly what it sounds like: a musical based on the 1989 film Heathers. It was written by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy and initially had a short run in Los Angeles's Hudson Backstage Theatre (September 21, 2013 to October 6, 2013) before getting an Off Broadway run at the New World theaters that lasted from March 31 to August 4 of 2014 before getting a West End run in 2018.
Like the movie (and even moreso in some aspects), the musical is a dark comedy addressing teenage suicide in the media, murder, violence, homophobia, sexual assault, neglectful parents, and the importance of convenience stores.
This is less a review and more of a plot synopsis comparing the changes made between film and adaptation, so spoiler warning. I recommend listening to the soundtrack or watching one of the bootlegged productions on youtube first if you're worried about missing out. Also, I'm gonna be linking to animatics of the songs that I like, so there's that.
Synopsis/Comparison of the Film and Musical
The plot of the musical follows that of the movie closely save for several small, but key, changes.
Both the film and the movie Heathers revolves around a girl named Veronica Sawyer and her relationships with other students at Westerburg High School, namely the the cutthroat clique of popular girls called the Heathers (named for its three members, Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara), as well as the mysterious new student Jason "JD" Dean. Other major characters include Martha Dunnstock, Veronica's best friend since kindergarten and Ram and Kurt, two bullies on the football team. If this setup sounds familiar, then you've probably seen the spiritual successor Mean Girls or watched the cartoon Recess which had an homage to the Heathers in the clique of Ashleys.
The musical opens with the song "Beautiful" in which Veronica narrates to her diary/the audience about how life used to be "beautiful" back when the students of Westerburg High were all little kids and got along, and how now everyone is pretty much an asshole to some degree. Despite this, she still holds onto the hope that things can be beautiful once more if people grow out of their immaturity and become kind again. Veronica will speak to her diary through the rest of the musical.
Beautiful introduces the aforementioned main characters, and here is where we have the first major change from the movie: Martha Dunnstock.
In the movie, Veronica's best friend is a character named Betty who, honestly, doesn't do much except serve as a guilt-inducing reminder to Veronica that the Heathers have taken over her life. Martha Dunnstock in the movie, however, is an overweight girl who has no real connection to Veronica aside from the fact that the Heathers have Veronica help humiliate her (more on that later). Movie-Veronica is casually sympathetic towards Movie-Martha, but otherwise the two have no connection. In the musical, the characters of Martha and Betty are conflated into one, giving Martha an expanded role and cutting Betty out entirely.
Partway into the song the Heathers are introduced to the audience, and in the second change from the movie, we see how Veronica joins them. In the movie, Veronica is just sort of there serving as a beleaguered assistant to Heather Chandler and already jaded from the crew at the start. In the musical, it's shown that the Heathers were out after the class-bell rang and were in the process of getting into trouble when Veronica appears and, using her uncanny ability to forge notes, forges them a hall pass. When the Heathers discover that she can forge other things as well, Heather Chandler deems her useful and allows her to hang out with them.
Veronica ends the song jubilant that, to her amazement, life really can be beautiful.
Unfortunately, this is almost immediately ruined when the Heathers ask Veronica to prove her loyalty by forging a note from Ram to Martha inviting her to his party. Heather Chandler has discovered that Martha has had a crush on Ram ever since he kissed her in kindergarten, and wants to make her pay for the audacity of having a crush on a boy out of her league.
When Veronica initially refuses, the Heathers break into the incredibly catchy song "Candy Store", and Veronica cracks under the pressure. When Martha comes to her expressing her elation that Ram invited her, Veronica gives a weak "color me stoked," instead of confessing.
This is where the aloof and mysterious black-trench-coat-wearing JD comes into the show. He's been off to the side, reading a book through the entire scene, and once the Heathers have gone, he's quick to point out that Veronica pulled kind of a bitch move there. After he quotes Baudelaire at her she asks his name, and he doesn't tell her, instead walking off right into the view of Kurt and Ram.
Kurt and Ram take an immediate disliking to JD, not in the least of which is because Veronica is visibly smitten by him. Ram tells Kurt that, as seniors, the two are too old to just randomly pick fights anymore, but Kurt goes ahead anyways and taunts JD, resulting in the song Fight For Me, in which the boys brawl and Veronica swoons over the thought of "Mr. No-Name Kid" fighting on her behalf.
JD resoundingly kicks the jocks' asses and this brings another stark change from the movie, in which JD just pulled a gun on the two and fired off some blanks at them. It is, in my opinion, a much better and more logical change, as even with the setting of the pre-Columbine 80s, a kid bringing a gun to school and literally shooting at other students is still enough to get someone arrested and expelled.
Later, Veronica meets JD at the 7-11 while on the way to Ram's homecoming party. As in the movie, Heather Chandler sends her in for cornchips and she finds JD, who espouses the glories of convenient stores in the song Freeze Your Brain. JD reveals information about his family: his dad is neglectful and moves them around constantly, his mother is dead, and the only real constant he's had is that no matter where he goes, the smallest town or largest city, there's always a 7-11. He warns Veronica that life will only get harder, and that even though she's from a nice family and appears to have her future planned out, the "sky's gonna hurt when it falls" and she should come to terms with the fact that life doesn't owe her a thing.
In the show, we get a brief scene before the party begins of Ram and Kurt's fathers who are on their way out of town for a fishing trip. The two men put Ram in a headlock for calling his dad dude. We get the impression that Kurt and Ram get their bad habits from their fathers-- either because it's learned behavior they don't realize is that shitty, or because they're taking out their resentment towards their dads out on other kids.
As soon as they're gone, the party, and the song Big Fun starts.
At the party, Martha shows up and is humiliated when Ram denies writing her invitation. There is a pig-shaped pinata that represents their rival school (presumably whose mascot is a pig) that the kids intend to smash as a part game. The Heathers, being Heathers, volunteer Martha to do the honors. They blindfold her, then bring out the pinata which now is dressed to look like her with a wig and glasses. Veronica fights heather Duke for it and tosses it in the pool before Martha can see it, then tells Martha to go home. Martha, who by now has had a pretty bad night, even without the pinata shenanigans, leaves. Veronica tells heather Chandler that she's done being part of their clique, and Heather vows to ruin her reputation at school. Veronica, who had been drinking a lot that night, vomits on Heather's shoes and leaves.
If you've seen the movie, then you'll immediately notice the vast differences in this scene. In the movie, Veronica is set up by Heather to have sex with a college fratboy who's attending the party, and Veronica refuses, and that is what gets Heather so pissed at her. Again, this is a change I like better because it more fully develops Martha's character and her relationship with Veronica, and makes Veronica look less like a complete bitch; she was defending her friend.
Still drunk and stressed about her soon to be ex-person status, Veronica breaks into Dead Girl Walking and laments her imminent exile from the school social strata. Then she comes up with the same idea any other crazy-drunk teenager would do in such a situation; she decides to break into JD's house and have a good anger-fuck. Despite how skeevy this actually is, JD is surprised but otherwise okay with this and has one of the funnier lines in the show near the end as they're getting it on. It's a pretty suggestive song (duh) so maybe don't listen to while at work.
After the hanky has been pankied, in the show, Veronica has a terrible nightmare about Heather mocking her for sleeping with JD, and when she wakes up she decides to go apologize. JD tags along for back up because-- well, why not?
At Heather Chandler's house, Veronica tells Heather she's sorry and Heather, who's still in bed with a hangover, tells her to make her a hangover cure drink. As in the movie, Veronica and JD do, and Veronica says she's gonna hock a loogie into Heather's drink in revenge. JD suggest instead that they use drain cleaner and pours a cup. Veronica berates him for the joke, and he apologizes with a kiss. Veronica mistakenly grabs the mug JD poured, and JD notices, but doesn't mention it.
Heather tells Veronica to beg for forgiveness on her knees, then laughs when she does and says that Veronica is still dead to her. Of course she then chugs the drain cleaner without looking at it and almost immediately dies. Veronica freaks out, but JD, who is too amused at this, points out that Heather had been reading The Bell Jar and convinces Veronica to pen a suicide note in Heather's handwriting. Veronica freaks a little more, but JD calms her down and the two begin penning the note, which then revolutionizes the entire town in the song Me Inside of Me.
Everyone at school is shocked and touched by Heather's suicide note and ashamed that they hadn't recognized her poetic and troubled soul. The school gets the day off in her honor as all the students (literally) sing her praises, and here is where the musical takes an aesthetic leap away from the movie, because despite being dead, Heather Chandler doesn't leave the show. Heather Chandler (and later, the other murdered students) sticks around in the form of a ghost/Greek Choir type character who comments on the goings on in the musical. As all the students sing about how wonderful she was and how they should have appreciated her more, Heather's ghost screams out "Holy crap! This is awesome! I'm bigger than John Lennon!" appreciating her popularity even from beyond the grave.
At to whether or not she is actually a ghost, or if Veronica is hallucinating from guilt is never cleared up.
During this time, we meet JD's dad, an alcoholic demolitions worker. JD casually mentions during the conversation that the last time he haw his mom, she was waving at him from a library in one of the towns they used to live in, and Dad cuts the conversation short. In the next scene, Veronica gets called in by the remaining two Heathers to come help them out at the cemetery. It turns out, they need ti bail out of a double date their on with Ram and Kurt, and figured the best way to do this would be by having Veronica show up as a distraction. The two Heathers have locked themselves inside their car because the boys have gotten very drunk and very horny, and aren't taking no for an answer. Veronica tries to call them off, but the two then try to convince Veronica to have sex with them both via the song Blue, AKA the worst song in the entire musical.
The entire scenario is a slight variation on the actual movie, where Veronica and Heather McNamara are the ones on the double date, but the ending is the same as the guys get drunk and pass out before they can actually rape anyone.
The next day, Veronica talks to her diary about how she actually doesn't feel that bad about killing Heather, and Heather's ghost pops in to criticize her, as she will for the duration of the musical. When she confronts the remaining Heather's for their actions, Heather Duke dramatically puts on Heather Chandler's signature red scrunchie and declares herself the new supreme Heather. She also mentions that Ram and Kurt have dragged Veronica's reputation through the mud by claiming that she had a three way with them both. At this point in the musical, there's usually a reprise of "Blue" with Kurt and Ram singing about their purported exploits, but it's not in the actual soundtrack.
JD gets into a fight defending Veronica's honor, but he's outnumbered and is left on the ground. Veronica runs to him kicking off Our Love is God, the song that makes all the angsty teenage girls think JD is husbando material riiight up until the point where he murders Kurt and Ram.
During the song, he and Veronica decide to "fake" Ram and Kurt's suicide. JD tells Veronica the needlessly circuitous and unconvincing plan: he will load up some special "Ich Luge" bullets into his very real gun. He tells her these bullets are tranquilizers, and won't actually kill anyone, but they will knock Kurt and Ram out. When the two are out, Veronica will leave forged gay suicide notes beside them. Then, when their unconscious selves are discovered, everyone will assume it was the botched suicide of two boys suffering unrequited love for one another, and the whole town will shame them once they're awake. Veronica calls Kurt and Ram to the cemetery, volunteering to be bait until they're close enough for her and JD to shoot them.
Veronica buys it all up until the point where she shoots Ram and realizes that those were not tranquilizer bullets. JD quickly dispatches Kurt, convinces Veronica that their love is worth a handful of murders, and the plan continues on, but without the "and then they wake up" portion tacked on at the end. This is aslight variation on the movie, where when Kurt runs away and Veronica realizes the bullets were real, JD chases Kurt back towards Veronica, who kills him, making her more culpable than her musical counterpart.
And that's the end of Act one!
Act two begins with Veronica telling her diary her doubts about her and JD's relationship and lamenting how Ram and Kurt were only seventeen, and theycould have gotten better in time, but now they definitely will never be better. She and JD argue, but that's put on hold as the two go to attend Kurt and Ram's double-funeral.
In the movie, the funeral is just a short scene where JD mocks the boys' fathers mourning their deaths, doubting that the men would be so loving towards their apparently-gay sons if they were still alive. In the musical, however, we get one of the best songs in the entire show, "I love my Dead Gay Son", a raucous gospel-style song that, criminally, has no animatics. In both, Kurt and Ram are martyred and their tragic suicides spur the town away from homophobia and bigotry, for which Musical-JD takes credit for.
JD and Veronica argue, and JD reveals how his mother committed suicide by going inside a building his father was slated to destroy. Veronica begs him to give up the whole, you know, "murder" thing in a song called Seventeen, where she tries to convince JD that they still have their whole lives ahead of them, and wouldn't it be nice to be normal? Surprisingly, this appears to work, though Heather Chandler's ghost is doubtful.
Of course, now that JD's murder-spree is apparently over, Martha picks that time to come to Veronica with her suspicions: that Ram, and Kurt by extension, was murdered. Her evidence? The love note Veronica forged from Ram. Clearly, if he wrote that, then he wasn't really gay, and the suicide was a setup. Ram and Kurt show up and join Heather Chandler in driving Veronica nuts, and Veronica admits that she's the one who forged the note, breaking Martha's heart in order to keep her away from JD, with Heather Chandler pointing out that Veronica is much more worried about JD hurting Martha than Martha getting JD into trouble.
Miss Flemming, teacher, former hippie, and current clout chaser then starts an assembly with news crews in order to Shine a Light on the problems facing the students. Unfortunately, Heather McNamara ruins Flemming's assembly about raising awareness for teenage depression by admitting that she genuinely wants to kill herself in the song Lifeboat. Heather Duke, being a colossal bitch now that Heather Chandler isn't there to control her, mocks Heather McNamara, driving her to attempt suicide in the bathroom in the Shine a Light Reprise.
In the movie, while Ms. Flemming is a hippie teacher who talks about feelings a lot, that isn't what spurs Heather McNamara's suicide attempt. Instead, she calls into a radio program and tells the host about her feelings, and the other students figure out it was her, and Heather Duke mocks her for that. In both the movie and Musical, Veronica stops Heather McNamara from OD'ing in the school bathroom, and in both the movie and musical, JD argues she ought to have let her die, and the two break up.
After, JD approached heather Duke with photos from her and Martha when they were six ears old and used to be friends. Heather, horrified, agrees to sign a petition he has and convince other kids to sign as well. Meanwhile, Martha Dunnstock reminisces about when she and Ram were friends in Kindergarten Boyfriend before jumping off a building.
Veronica learns of Martha's accident from Heather Duke and realizes that she is in some deep shit in the song Yo Girl as JD, who has gone completely nuts, breaks into her room in. In the movie, he does this specifically so he can murder Veronica before she can ruin his plans for the school. In the musical, he earnestly tries to convince her to join him with his plans in Meant to be Yours, thus underlining the differences between the two JDs: movie JD is just DTF and doesn't actually care about Veronica, while musical-JD is a yandere who is genuinely in love with Veronica, but also a completely broken and fucked up person. Both JD's tell Veronica their plan; he's going to use the petition all the students signed and forge it into a group suicide note. Then he'll blow up the pep-rally happening that evening, and the entire ordeal will be spun in the media as a mass-suicide.
In both cases, Veronica fakes suicide in order to make him go away. After quickly assuring her mom that she's not dead, Veronica goes to the pep-rally and confronts JD in the boiler room where he is setting up explosives. The reprise of Dead Girl Walking plays, with the title being intended literally this time. In both the movie and the musical, JD and Veronica wrassle for the gun and control over the explosives,and in both, JD winds up shot.
In the movie, JD's knife cuts the wires to the detonator, rendering the bomb-- well, not safe, but not as big a threat as before. No such luck in the musical; JD passes out, and Veronica, unable to disarm the bomb, takes it outside into the soccer field with the hope that it will blow up away from everyone else, and if it takes her with it, then she deserves it anyway. However, as she's going off to accept her inevitable death, JD crawls his way back onto the scene and tells her to give him the bomb in I am Damaged, a reprise combining Seventeen and Our Love is God where JD tells Veronica that he still loves her, and while he is FUBAR in more ways than one, she still has the capacity to be a good person. He takes the bomb from her, she backs off, and he dies when the bomb goes off.
Movie-JD also meets Veronica outside the school, but this time he's the one carrying the bomb. He's strapped the explosives to himself, gives a little speech, and then intentionally blows himself up, knocking the bomb a few times until it works.
On the surface, the ending seems to be the same as the movie. JD gets hisself all blowed up. However, the difference here is that Movie-JD had no fucking reason to do that. He was just killing himself dramatically to either make a point or so he wouldn't have to explain to the police and hospital staff what he'd done. To reiterate: in the movie, the timer was frozen. The bomb wasn't stable, somebody would have to get the bomb squad to properly defuse the damn thing, but there was time enough for Veronica to casually leave the area and have a smoke on the school's front steps. In the musical, there's more urgency; the thing isn't busted and it will explode no matter what. Veronica has to take it out to the field so that it will cause the least amount of damage and JD, realizing that he is well and truly fucked up on a number of levels, decides to do one decent thing before he goes and trades his life for Veronica's.
After JD dies in both the film and musical, the kids all leave the rally to come see what the explosion was about. Veronica takes the red scrunchie of power from Heather Duke and declares that everyone is going to stop acting terrible in the Seventeen Reprise. The musical ends with Veronica inviting Martha and the remaining Heathers to watch movies together.
1. Veronica is going to need so much therapy.
2. Part of the awkward, harsher-in-hindsght nature of the film that the musical manages to lessen is that Movie-JD is really reminiscent of the Columbine kids. Dark trench coat, loner, bullied, sets out to kill kids at his school, and literally pulls out a gun and shoots at people. Part of the context for the movie was that it was made before the Columbine shootings, and that the writers actually claimed that the idea of middleclass white kids shooting up the school was so far fetched that it was a suitable premise for a comedy. Clearly, history and depressingly-recent history have shown that not to be the case. Rather, the film (and the musical as well) were intended to be a critical look at the media's reaction to suicide, especially teenage suicide.
3. The funny thing thing someone on TVTropes has pointed out is that typically somebody thawing the cold, emotionless wreck and teaching them love tends to end well. Normally it's a good thing to get close to the grumpy loner and teach them the power of love. However in JD and Veronica's case, it ended absolutely terribly. Make what argument you will about the net-gain of compassion the town gets with each suicide (I mean, Kurt and Ram's death apparently single-handedly ended homophobia there), everybody in the immediate cast at least would probably have been better off had JD been left to his own devices