Review: Mean Girls – August Wilson Theatre, New York

Ask any Millennial or ‘noughties era teen what colour you wear on Wednesdays and they’ll more than likely say pink. If you’re sitting in a restaurant, enjoying your avocado and free range eggs and you’ve heard “You go Glen Coco” as a form of encouragement or “She doesn’t even go here!” as a slanderous remark, you can link all these back to the 2004 classic, Mean Girls.
In the era where Green Day can take their historic rock anthem album American Idiot and somehow turn it into a musical, it seemed almost inevitable that Mean Girls would strut its way onto Broadway. Let’s just thank god that they did it with its original writer, Tina Fey…she’s so fetch.

When Lin Manuel Miranda isn’t busy taking all the Tony’s on Broadway, or Pasek and Paul aren’t extracting buckets of tears from audiences via Ben Platt, or Sir Andrew Loyd Webber isn’t inhabiting three of the theatres on the Great White Way, Broadway producers and writers are turning to the silver screen for their latest paycheck or “golden” idea. Some of these musicals based on films flop; see Carrie; others soared; salute The Producers; so where does Mean Girls sit in terms of the movie musical era of Broadway?

Tina Fey (SNL, Date Night, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) returns to be playwright for her 2004 hit and the classic one liners and jokes are all there, so much so that you can tell the audiences are biting their tongues to stop themselves from screaming them out. Fey’s social commentary is so sharp, witty and hits extremely close to home in this millennial, President Trump, Orson Welles futuristic world we find ourselves in. It’s clear that Tina Fey has her finger well and truly on the pulse of society.
Composer, Jeff Richmond and lyricist, Nell Benjamin work closely with Fey to make sure her characters become more than two dimensional in the transfer to the stage, and they manage to hit this on the head…for the most part.

Cady Heron (played by Erika Henningsen) is (thankfully) saved from becoming a Lindsay Lohan rip-off as Heron takes this fish-out-of-water character and gives her a breath of life. Instead of being shy and awkwardly introverted, we see a strong willed Cady who simply just doesn’t feel like she belongs in western society. Instead, she references much of what she sees to that of Africa, with imaginary reactions from characters in the cast that reminded me of those weird movement exercises you’d do in theatre school that you have almost buried deep down in your subconscious.
As the narrators of the show/Cady’s best friends, Damian Hubbard (played by Book of Mormon alumni, Grey Henson) and Janis Sarkisian (sung with power and velocity by Barrett Wilbert Weed), guide the audience through the show and act as expositionary tropes for the good first half of act one.
Wilbert Weed clearly looked like she was having the time of her life on stage and this breathed a force into what could have easily have been a by the numbers performance. Henson also was able to chew every scene he was in, managing to steal them through Damian’s extroverted and sometimes over-the-top character. Sadly though, if you’re looking for depth from Henson’s portrayal of Damian, you’ll find no more than the comedic relief queer character. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, Henson was nominated for a well-earned Tony nod, but I personally wasn’t won over by the showman archetype.

In the musical however, I couldn’t help but think that Regina’s character was, well, underused.

Now to the main attraction of the show, The Plastics, a.k.a Regina George, Gretchen Wieners and Karen Smith, played by Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park and Kate Rockwell, respectively. In the film, Rachel McAdams made Regina George infamous, she was the cold-hearted Queen Bee of high school, a symbol for all those devious, deceptive and conniving princesses who inherited too much of Daddy’s money. In the musical however, I couldn’t help but think that Regina’s character was, well, underused. Especially with a talent such as Louderman – who could belt a note that did flips and turns that would make Bring It On jealous – you would think Regina would have been front and centre of The Plastics. However, Regina is kept mostly to the shadows, only brought out when the plot requires her, or whenever Cady needs to deploy her next step of her plan to bring Regina down. Otherwise, Regina is mostly talked about by the other characters, which I suppose gives her power, but Regina is an actual character, not the Phantom, so why not benefit the show by using the talent you have?
As for Park and Rockwell, the two girls shine as Gretchen and Karen. Both have their moments of audience erupting laughter, spotlights songs, and character development. Especially Karen, who manages (in all her blonde, ditzy, innocent nonsense) to make more sense than, let’s say, Donald Trumps midnight tweets. She manages to bring the show to a standstill on more than one occasion and clearly takes Fey’s script in her stride.

Scott Pask’s scenic design takes a leaf out of Frozen’s book and relies on the use of screens and projectors to build the different atmospheres and scene changes. The blast of pink that illuminates the stage is overwhelming and lights up the entire theatre but apart from that, the stage and show does not require a great deal of wow factor. The real star is in the script and the characters.
Which now brings me to the music, which is (this is going to be blunt) forgettable. Normally when I see a musical I leave the theatre humming my favourite track, but for Mean Girls I simply couldn’t. In the moment, the songs are enveloping, they serve the story and give the performers something to belt and make the audience impressed. After that, they move on and I struggled to remember the names of them, having to refer to the playbill to seek them out. Ironically, the whole reason it was transferred to the stage in the first place was not the best part of the show, and you’d think it would be!
In saying this, there were numbers that impressed but, again, never wowed. This may just be me being picky and I’m sure others would be disagreeing with me, but hey as Regina would say, I’m sorry people are so jealous of me

Mean Girls to me would attract everyone who loved the film and anyone who loves Tina Fey and her exquisite writing and characters. For anyone wanting to see a top quality and original musical, they’re best off not sitting with the plastics and not investing in wearing pink anytime soon.
What I will say, is that amateur theatre companies and societies are going to jump and will have a lot to play with as soon as this show’s amateur rights are released, so be ready!

Stin’s Final Thought:  I feel like ‘Mean Girls’ is going to be the child friendly version of ‘Heathers’ in the history of musical theatre. I can’t wait to see what the post-millenials version is going to look like.

Mean Girls is now playing at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway. Tickets and information in the link below.

Mean Girls – Broadway

mean-girls-broadway-musical-1

2 Comments on “Review: Mean Girls – August Wilson Theatre, New York”

  1. Thanks for this review! I’ve tried to listen to the cast recording but found myself being weirdly annoyed by how bad it was that I stopped. In one paragraph you say that composer and lyricist work with Tina Fey to make sure the characters become less than one two dimensional. Do you mean more here or was it actually less? 😐

Leave a Reply