Debuting for the first time in London at The Other Palace, Heathers the Musical is the 2014 off-Broadway hit based on the cult 80s film. The show stars Carrie Hope Fletcher, and is a dark comedy which includes the themes of murder, suicide, and terrorism amongst other ‘lighter’ things like the popularity cliques of an American high school.
With its arrival in London, it seems that everyone within the musical theatre fan base knows about Heathers – the songs, costumes, and iconic lines such as “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw”. When the show wasn’t even on Broadway, how did this specific show become so well known in a very niche group?
The pre-existing fandom
Of course, the musical already had a huge group of fans interested in the show whom were big lovers of the film. Much like the Rocky Horror Show, the film wasn’t very popular at its time of release, and instead has grown in popularity with each passing year, thus earning its ‘cult classic’ status. The show’s faithfulness to the film immediately means the film fans are on board with the musical adaptation.
Of course, the costumes and lines are iconic – Chandler’s red scrunchie is popular amongst audience members, as are baseball jackets and the Heathers blazer colours: everyone wants to identify with one of the Heathers in some way. This cult status has meant that these images are instantly recognisable even for those unacquainted with the show.
I think the main reason that so many people in the UK within the musical community know of the show is because of the various bootlegs of the show which have been resurfacing all across YouTube. These bootlegs allowed people to watch the show in pretty decent quality, and even know all of the dialogue and dance moves (I might have spent most of my A2 year perfecting my ‘Candy Store’ dance moves..). Yes bootlegs are bad and I do not condone filming a performance, but in this one instance the bootleg was used for some good, and created a whole new legion of fans – which is part of the reason the show was able to have a London run in the first place. Without fans (who came to know the show through the bootleg) clamoring for the production to come to the UK in the way they have, I think it would have taken much longer for it to have happened.
The incredible marketing
Whoever is running the Heathers socials needs a huge pay rise. Everything they do, from the personality of the account to interacting with audiences has allowed the show to keep itself alive despite not having a professional run in three years. What I love about the social media channels are it’s acknowledgement and interaction with fans. For example, it runs an annual #HalloweenHeathers where it sees and reposts fan’s photos of their Heathers costumes. I dressed as Chandler two years ago and absolutely adored the love from the account, knowing that I was a part of a recognised fan base.
In keeping the show alive without any professional performances, the socials champion the amateur/school/college productions of Heathers, advertising when it’s performed, and commenting on their photos and other media. This inter-personal relationship between the show and the fans is incredibly special, and it means a lot to some fans to get the okay for their show as well as a coveted ‘xoxo Heather’. It also shows that amateur productions of this show are as equally respected and seen as important.
Partnership with The Other Palace
I do believe that The Other Palace is the perfect venue for the first UK run of the show. It is an intimate space which allows the horror of JD’s final plot to radiate the highest tension, and of course the venue is a hub for growing musical theatre.
The venue’s marketing team have also done extremely well in hosting a sold out run. The bar offers themed cocktails named after songs such as ‘Candy Store’, and the bar area has Heathers silhouettes pasted on the mirrors. For what seems like the first time, there’s also official merchandise available which of course has been a huge hit. Not to mention the £25 ticket lottery which means buzz about the show is worth it if it means more people are entering the draw.
Of course, Carrie Hope Fletcher’s involvement in the show means there is somewhat of a ready-made audience, but the team have worked with Fletcher to use the other skills she has (apart from her impeccable performance, of course). Fletcher’s vlogging allows viewers an insight into the backstage world of the show, so viewers are somewhat familiarised with the show before they see it. Her ‘Veronica Vlogs’ stretch traditional means of marketing and, again, create that personal connection between fans and creatives which has been so well-cultivated across the four or so years.
So, that was a very long-winded explanation. Essentially, many people are quick to dismiss fandom and the dedicated audiences of shows as somewhat childish and teen-like (an odd negative connotation there) when in fact they are incredibly instrumental in keeping a show alive. Without people being vocal about their love for something, producers often won’t realise that audiences want the show again, so when audiences and fandoms do come together, the results – as seen with Heathers– can be ‘beautiful’.