“Mean Girls” on Broadway: A Review
Ah, the sweet high school years. We all remember them fondly, with their joys and struggles, their highs and lows. If you want to go on a walk on Memory Lane, first you need to go to BroadwayPass and get some tickets for “Mean Girls”.
“Mean Girls” is a musical based on the 2004 movie with the same name. The script for the movie and the book of the musical are by the same person – Tina Fey. The music is by Jeff Richmond and the lyrics – by Nell Benjamin.
This is the story of Cady Heron – a high school girl that has recently moved with her parents to a Chicago suburb from…Kenya! Yes! From the endless savannas to the big concrete urban jungle. When her family’s funding is stopped they have to travel back to the US and Cady has to go to a normal school. And she can’t wait! She’s on her “last nerve”. She craves things that are pretty ordinary for the rest of the teens in the US – “high school, and rapping, and skateboarding and Starbuck’s”. She wants to have friends…with hands.
She is introduced around the school by Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard. They are the narrators that we met at the start of the show where they sing us “the cautionary tale of fear, and lust, and pride”. They show her the different groups around the school cafeteria when they meet The Plastics. The Plastics are “the ruling clique” of the school. The pride of three is led by the Queen Bee – Regina George, whom we can consider our main antagonist (but a one who we can love in the end!). She is followed by her second-in-command Gretchen Wieners, and, Karen Smith, who’s…well, Karen. She’s very pretty, though. Her hair is shiny, her teeth are perfect, and her skirt is tiny. Enough for her. They approach Cady as a new face around and invite her to have lunch with them this week. They start hanging out together despite Janis’ warnings on Regina. When asked if she met any boys she likes, Cady tells Regina about Aaron Samuels, whom she met in math class, and who is Regina’s ex. Aaron is your typical high school crush – “with swoopy hair and shiny eyes”. This leads to some tension between Cady and Regina – the first starts playing stupid so she can spend some time with Aaron while Regina flirts with him at a Halloween party in front of the eyes of Cady. Meanwhile, Janis, Damian, and Cady have been feeding Regina Kälteen Bars so she will gain weight. When she arrives at The Plastic’s table in different clothing, Cady sends her away. Everyone is shocked, yet relieved by Cady’s regicide and Regina swears to have her revenge.
It’s all typical teenage meddling in Act I. It forms all of “Mean Girls” major story arcs – the love triangle between Cady, Regina and Aaron, the failed friendship between Janis and Regina, and Cady’s climb on the top of the food chain. And her transformation to the new Queen Bee. Also, the beginning of the downfall between Janis, Damian, and Cady.
We have some serious issues discussed in “Mean Girls”. Bullying is one of them. High school is like successfully compared, a wild savanna crawling with all kinds of life. We have predators and prey. It’s basically the same all over the world. You have the popular kids, and the least popular ones called all sorts of names which I will spare. And anyone can be victimized for all sorts of reasons – like Janis when Regina called her a lesbian and the Mathletes. Regina’s gain of weight can be viewed as a typical fall from grace. Bullies are usually people with all sorts of problems, mostly in their family, like Connor from “Dear Evan Hansen”. Regina’s “cool mum” might be the reason behind Regina’s issues. Gretchen is another typical case of someone constantly bullied. She confides that because of her friendship with Regina, has lost all of her confidence. She calls herself “(If Regina is the sun/Then I’m) a disco ball cause I’m just as bright and fun if you’ve had alcohol). She is heavily oppressed by her “boss” Regina. Her only happiness is gossip.
Act II starts with Cady’s total transformation. Or, should one say, metamorphosis. She is the new Queen Bee, and no one likes that – from Janis and Damian to Aaron. Cady lies to Janis and Damian that she won’t be in town for their art competition and throws a party with her new plastic friends. She gets drunk and confesses to Aaron that she played dumb so they can talk. He gets angry and leaves her. She meets Janis and Damian outside where Janis throws a picture at her. A picture of the three of them. Meanwhile, Regina drops a bomb by releasing the Burn Book – a book with pictures of their classmates with mean comments. And it spreads like forest fire in the school. Or savanna fire, if you prefer. There are insults to everyone, except Cady, Gretchen, and Karen, with one particularly rude to Damian that only Cady could have written. Janis makes a speech at the required assembly empowering the girls to stand by themselves, explaining her straight-forward philosophy. Regina storms out followed by Cady only to be hit by a bus. Cady takes full responsibility for the Burn Book and is suspended for three weeks. When returning she is advised to join the Mathletes so she can save her grade. They win the following championship and there begins her redemption arc. She sneaks into the Spring Fling with Aaron’s help (they mend fences with a kiss). She bumps into Regina, only to make up with her, too, after a warm conversation. Cady wins Spring Fling Queen but breaks her plastic crown because plastic doesn’t shine. She apologizes to Janis and Damian. The three together with Gretchen, Karen, Aaron, and Regina sing “I see stars”.
The cast is charming – young, talented and very beautiful. Erika Henningsen is amazing both as the sweet new student Cady and Cady – the Queen Bee. She also starred in “Les Miserables” and “Diner”. At the tender age of just 27, you can be sure that her future on Broadway is bright. Reneé Rapp steals the show as Regina. Stunning, provocative, witty and sassy – all you need from The Original Queen Bee. We all love Kate Rockwell as Karen. She’s an amazing comedic relief in a show that is generally joyful. Krystina Alabado (Gretchen), Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis) and Grey Henson (Damian) are perfect as betrayed, oppressed and depressed, while any teenage girl can fall from Kyle Selig (Aaron).
The music in “Mean Girls” is probably its strongest feature. All of the actors on stage have magnificent singing voices. The songs are powerful and with a brightly highlighted message, and the topics are very different. From the rather dark “World Burn” about Regina’s vengeance on Cady, through Janis’ all-powerful “I’d rather be Me” and the topic of confidence and self-empowerment to the could-be pop-hit “Apex Predator”.
“Mean Girls” received good critical and audience acclaim. It was nominated for the stunning twelve Tony Awards in 2018 but failed to win any of them. Still, Tina Fey won a Drama Desk and, Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Book of a Musical.
It is pretty hard to adapt a movie into a musical. We have seen the opposite, with “Chicago” becoming a very successful movie, and yet a lot of movies are getting on the Broadway stage. Tina Fey does a wonderful job within “sending” her baby from the screen to the stage. This, with the original music written by Jeff Richmond, makes “Mean Girls” a colorful and joyful take on the high-school drama.
If you want to take a shortcut back in time to high-school you should head to the August Wilson Theatre (but through BroadwayPass first!) and get in for the evening classes of the “Mean Girls”!