How do you deal with a mean girl like Regina? It turns out an energy bar and a school bus, along with a hearty portion of crow and unexpected kindness can make all the difference. In the musical version of Tina Fey’s 2004 movie Mean Girls, these ingredients, plus friendship and a little help from the adult world serve up a spirited and high tech foray into the collective contemporary teenage psyche. Ms. Fey wrote the Book for the musical. She was in town last weekend with her husband, Jeff Richmond, who wrote the Music, and Lyricist Nell Benjamin for the launch at Shea’s of the Broadway roadshow of Mean Girls.
Mean Girls plumbs the depths of adolescent angst and cruelty in an often hilarious parody that stretches characters into their most absurd selves and then snaps them back into flesh and blood human beings trying to survive in the classrooms, cafeterias, and gymnasiums of public high schools. Ms. Fey’s book is full of spot on one-liners and astute observations about the struggle to grow up and maintain integrity. It tells the age-old tale of innocence lost, trial by fire, and emergence into the world of experience with great humor and affection for the youth caught in the cultural maelstrom.
Home-schooled in the bush in Kenya, her only friends the animals around her, Cady is an innocent tossed into the fire of North Shore High School in Chicago. Cautioned by her worried parents that in America, everyone is “violent and racist and…on opioids,” she is met with the news that “new kids suck,” but is taken under the wings of artist Janis and “almost too gay to function” Damian. When mean girl Regina arrives with her posse, she invites Cady to join them for lunch, with many rules to follow if she agrees. Janis and Damian urge her to do it so she can be their spy, and she agrees. Consequences ensue as Cady learns the ins and outs of socialization, almost losing herself in the process.
The cast excels. Danielle Wade as the newbie Cady has just the right amount of innocent charm without being cloying, and a strong and warm voice. Mariah Rose Faith as Regina strikes one pose after another, all an expression of her belief in her superiority. She gives orders, even to her alcoholic mother, and her throaty voice adds to her persona. Eric Huffman kills it as Damian. He is poised, self-aware, has great timing and can tap dance up a storm, always a plus in any musical. Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis has the strongest voice in the show. A favorite is Jonalyn Saxer as the clueless, big-hearted Karen. She is perfect in this role, with her shy smile, vacant stare, and unexpected wisdom. Megan Masako Haley is fine as the insecure Gretchen who garners sympathy for her plight with her sad “What’s Wrong with Me?” Of note is Gaelen Gilliland in several adult roles, and Kabir Bery as the crotch-grabbing, wannabe rapper, mathlete Kevin. He is very funny.
There were some sound issues that were a distraction. Voices were screechy at times, and the sound was so loud, it was often difficult to understand lyrics.
The digitally-projected set is a fascinating component of the show. It transforms the stage in an instant. The African plain becomes a room in a house, then a school hallway full of blue lockers—blue and gold being the school colors—and later a cafeteria, a gymnasium, classrooms, a two-story mall with a Suburban Outfitters store, and the pinkest of pink girly bedrooms. Colorful and current, with a few set pieces quickly and gracefully moved on and off stage, the set commands attention without overwhelming the action. Costumes by Gregg Barnes are also colorful and very contemporary.
Choreography by Director Casey Nicholaw is fresh and great fun. Students sitting at desks on wheels fly around the stage in a tightly choreographed dance. He does the same with cafeteria tables in the wonderful “Where Do You Belong?” a number that in a few lyrics covers the gamut of high school cliques, from band geeks and stoners to mathletes. Using red plastic trays as a rhthym section is particulalry clever.
Some songs hit the mark more than others, but they all are expressive of the teen world and the challenges teens face. Serious, sad, joyous, and ultimately life-affirming, the book, lyrics, music and choreography of Mean Girls provide a window into adolescent life that is great fun to watch.
You can see Mean Girls at Shea’s through September 27th.