‘Mean Girls’ on Broadway is fun and fetch: Review
The Plastics are ready to rule again.
As anyone with a passing knowledge of pop culture is aware, the Plastics refer to the enviable, popular ladies that make up the 2004 modern classic film about teenagers, Mean Girls. And it seems the ladies are poised to shine once more, as a musical version of the beloved film hits Broadway.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the rabid fanbase that has spent the past 14 years quoting the film to each other, the Mean Girls musical, with a book by Tina Fey and music by Jeff Richmond, hews quite closely to its source material. Many iconic lines from the film are delivered exactly how you remember them (“Danny DeVito! I love your work!”), and are immediately greeted by enthusiastic audience cheers. Clearly, for many fans, a faithful retelling of the endlessly rewatchable film — with a couple additional dance breaks — is what they are after.
And for the most part, that’s basically what this production is. With the thoughtful framing device of having Janis (Barett Wilbert Weed) and Damien (a stellar Grey Henson) narrate the story, Mean Girls on Broadway weaves the tale of one crazy year in high school, artfully pointing out that the way so many young women are socialized to treat each other is just awful. Quick update for the adults out there: Yup, high school is still a nightmare.
As we’re all learning our feminist lessons, one can almost hear Fey underlining certain points with a red pen about female empowerment and women in 2018. The audience particularly seemed to love sidekick Janis breaking the fourth wall when Cady Heron (a strong Erika Henningsen) plays dumb to get a guy to like her: “Don’t sleep on that. She just pretended to be dumb to get a boy to keep talking to her. And it worked. ‘Cause that shit always works.”
The team made some smart updates to the source material to keep things 2018 realistic (texting and viral photos replace three-way calling), but for the most part, this story could take place at any time — save for an obligatory Donald Trump joke or two. (I’m sorry! I thought I was going to get through this review without mentioning him too!)
It can’t be easy to take on characters that audience members have such fond movie memories of, but the cast is uniformly excellent; in particular, the three actresses portraying the iconic Plastics trio: Queen Bee Regina George (Taylor Louderman), loyal servant Gretchen Weiners (Ashley Park), and dim-but-sweet Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell). They’re all a true delight to watch, and go a long way toward making this a production worth checking out.
Mean Girls on Broadway is a thrilling cautionary tale, bubbly and full of bite.
Expect Louderman to earn a Tony nom for her work here, expertly juggling physical comedy, vulnerability, and some seriously captivating belting (particularly on “Watch the World Burn”). She’s clearly missed when she’s not on stage. Likewise for Park and Rockwell. In fact, the high point of the show is probably the whole “Halloween party” sequence, which showcases great moments for all three, and which film fans will recall as the turning point in the story, when Cady realizes Regina is awful and decides to help sabotage her life.
It’s here that director Casey Nicholaw allows all the pieces to come together to both honor the film version, but also bring something new to the table and allow the musical to do what musicals do best: give greater insight into the inner emotional lives of the characters. Whether that’s Karen matter-of-factly breaking down the rules for women on Halloween in “Sexy” or Regina showing just how cruel she can be to get what she wants with “Someone Gets Hurt,” those moments elevate everything else, and add a sense of electricity to the whole show.
If there’s any disappointment, it’s that the songs don’t quite rise to the actors’ obvious talent. It’s all perfectly serviceable, but the score would have benefitted from a little more variety. Each number is pleasant enough to watch unfold, but you won’t really be humming any of the tunes on your way out the door (as opposed to, say, the gotta-hit-replay-right-now girl-power score of Legally Blonde).
Irregardless, to borrow a phrase from Gretchen Weiners, Mean Girls on Broadway is a thrilling cautionary tale, bubbly and full of bite. You don’t want to befriend the Plastics. But Nicholaw makes sure you have a great time watching them.
Mean Girls officially opened on Broadway April 8.