BOLD. It’s the only word to describe the transformation of 1980s teen high school movie Heathers into a stage musical. But having said that, “insane” could be another word. Or perhaps even “ill-advised”.

Why? Well, let’s recall the story of the movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, both absurdly good-looking and cool young actors who played teenage misfits Veronica and JD.

We learned that life in Westerburg High School wasn’t all fun and games. Veronica’s dreams of finally becoming popular came true when she joined the beautiful and impossibly cruel trio of girls, all named Heather. However, she then fell for mysterious teen rebel JD, all floppy hair and surly, sneering attitude.

But JD took wild teen behaviour to a whole new level when he decided to kill off the Heathers. And he saw his girlfriend as the Bonny and Clyde of teen America.

The Herald: Heathers the movieHeathers the movie (Image: free)

Now, this very dark satire worked incredibly well; it was a storyline which called out bullying, then a strong theme in youth culture. However, the film was made before school shootings in America became a regular horror.

And in transforming the film into a modern-day stage musical, how can you have laughs, however cartoonish, when you’re turning on the news every week to watch another mass shooting of school cafeteria innocents? It was all very well to dry laugh at the dark lines in the film such as “Have you had a brain tumour for breakfast?” or “Well, **** me gently with a chainsaw!”

But is it possible to watch a stage musical of the story and be able to isolate the mind from the knowledge of regular mass annihilations of children in small-town America? (There have already been more than 200 school shootings since the beginning of the year.)

Can you re-tread a storyline which could now be regarded as savage?

Well, the producers of the film have factored in this changing sensibility and removed the rottweiler teeth.

Veronica (Jenna Innes) doesn’t deliberately kill anyone in the stage musical. JD (Jacob Fowler) is more creepy than cool. Yes, it’s fair to say that pupils die in the performance of this show, but they don’t “die” die. As one critic pointed out, they are treated with a Little Shop of Horrors-esque campiness, something approaching the sensibility of Rocky Horror Show rather than the nihilism which the movie managed to offer so well.

Heathers the Musical co-writer Lawrence O’Keefe also co-wrote Legally Blonde the Musical, and it’s clear to see he has taken this softer touch and transferred it to the high school story.

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The writers have also played down the 1980s setting, opting for a more universal sense of teenage life, with all its bullying and neuroses. And of course, the songs bring a levity which the film couldn’t offer. Veronica and JD sing songs about their feelings for each other, and they really work. Seventeen, for example, sees Veronica plead to be a normal, non-murdering teenager. And JD has the chance to perform Freeze Your Brain, in which he extols the virtues of the frozen slushies that help him numb his feelings.

No, you’re not going to enjoy the scabrous wit and the weapons-grade cynicism that was allowed to be deployed in the 1980s. But we can’t, because weapons aren’t fun any more and while JD gains a more tragic back story there are fewer killings and less brutal executions. In the film, Veronica’s inadvertent slaying of one of her jock tormentors is shifted to JD in the musical.

But what you will get as a carry-over is a dark sense of fun, and a moral undertone which highlights that the bullying and teenagers’ fragile mental health have to be given major consideration.

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The musical still embodies the essence of teen movies, the major question being: “Who am I supposed to be?” It asks of teenagers if they should side with the cool gang, even when the gang inflicts abuse on innocents, and it explores the power of peer pressure.

It also pokes at the conscience with a very sharp stick, asking if what we do while wrapped in the baseball jacket of teenage rebellion can ever be justified when we move into adulthood.

What should be pointed out is that adults in the audience who saw – and loved – the movie may be circumspect about the transfer to stage musical, taking sociopathy and turning it into song.

But like so many film-inspired musicals, from Billy Elliot to The Producers, this is a hit.

Certainly, Aberdeen-born Jenna Innes believes the characters transfer perfectly to the musical theatre stage. “I don’t think there are many female roles which are this gritty,” she offers.

“Veronica is a flawed person, she’s an emotionally intelligent person and she’s very funny. There just aren’t that many multi-layered characters out there, so it’s a joy to get my teeth into it.”

Heathers The Musical is showing at The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, from June 27- July 1