Mean Girls on Broadway: Photo Credit Joan Marcus
Venue: August Wilson Theatre, New York
Performance Date: 01 March 2019
For anyone who has navigated the untamed jungle that is High School, the story of Mean Girls will no doubt resonate. For teens of the early noughties, the Mean Girls movie held an exaggerated microscope over the minefield of teenage angst and the struggle to fit in. Written by legendary comedian Tina Fey, starring Lindsey Lohan (prior to her well-documented struggles), and providing break out roles for Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried, the movie was a smash hit.
Now adapted for the stage as a musical, Mean Girls has made its way to Broadway to great acclaim. With music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin and book by Tina Fey the script is whiplash sharp, hilariously funny and lightning quick. The numbers are catchy too with a strong and memorable soundtrack, with the cast delivering each number with high octane energy and gusto.
Mean Girls tells the story of Cady, a free-spirited, wide-eyed sixteen-year-old. After being home-schooled in Kenya by her zoologist parents she moves back to civilisation (Chicago) and enters the tinderbox of high school. Struggling to identify in which group she belongs, school outcast Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and the “too gay to function” Damian (Grey Henson) take Cady under their wing. Soon Cady is introduced to ‘the plastics’ a revered and popular trio led by the ferocious and ‘Apex Predator’ Regina James (Taylor Louderman). In an attempt to infiltrate the plastics, Cady befriends the girls joining their clique. Unfortunately for Cady, the popularity and respect she commands as part of this group go to her head, and it turns out she’s not so different to Regina after all.
Mean Girls perfectly encapsulates the trials of high school, exaggerating them to great effect. Indeed Damian’s hilariously camp ditty Where do you Belong? introduces us beautifully to the different groups in true show tune fashion, complete with dance sequences, tap dancing and jazz hands. Grey Henson plays Damian with a riotous charm, unapologetically flamboyant; he cradles his framed George Michael photo as he performs, to great amusement. Henson is also an incredibly accomplished dancer and delivers his dance sequences without missing a beat.
Damian’s flamboyancy is contrasted superbly by his grungy best friend Janis, who is completely deadpan and serious throughout. We later learn the reasons behind Janis’s countenance and it is a little bit heart-breaking. Barrett Wilbert Weed is the perfect embodiment of Janis and during her solo in Apex Predator betrays her vulnerability tenfold.
Erika Henningsen is simply sublime as Cady and was born to play this role. She perfectly exemplifies Cady’s niaveity and trepidation as she starts her new school. Cady’s journey into the worst version of herself is believable, as his her eventual realisation and subsequent redemption. Vocally she is incredibly strong, delivering her numbers with pure class and authority. She has a number of standout moments in the show including her introductory solo It Roars but it is in the rousing and inspirational finale number I See Stars where she truly kicks into sixth gear.
So what of the Apex Predator herself? Taylor Louderman is phenomenal in her embodiment of the iconic bitch Regina George and it is not hard to see why she was nominated for a Tony Award for this role. Louderman successfully manages to make Regina completely heinous and spiteful but it is hard not to empathise with her as the show concludes. This is testament to Louderman’s talent. She performs Someone Gets Hurt, a Bond theme-esq number with power and her vocal placement is astonishing.
As strong as Henningsen and Louderman are, they are complemented in droves by Ashely Park as the horrendously insecure Gretchen and Kate Rockwell as the endearingly dim-witted Karen. Both are fine actresses who easily elicit the loudest laughs of the night. Both have sublime comic timing and own the stage when they are on it, never more so than when they deliver their incredibly strong solos. Park performs the touching ballad What’s Wrong with Me? with believable emotion which highlights Gretchen’s desperate need for Regina’s approval and friendship.
Meanwhile, Karen’s solo could not be more of a contrast in terms of tone, content and style. Sexy is a hilarious journey into Karen’s mind. Rockwell’s delivery of this number is flawless, a very difficult number to perform she does so with style. Set during a Halloween Party scene, costume designer Gregg Barnes should be congratulated as the costumes during this number steal the show – look out for the sexy corn.
Cady and Regina’s floppy-haired love interest Aaron played by Kyle Selig is endearingly charming as the conflicted student. Jennifer Simard plays multiple roles but it is her embodiment of Regina’s mother, Mrs George where she comes into her own. The character is so good it is a shame she doesn’t get more stage time.
The use of video in the staging is unusual, giving the show a cartoon-like feel, this effect is thanks to Video Designers Finn Ross and Adam Young. Traditionally this effect is not customary on the stage; in fact, the only show that springs to mind where this type of videography works well is the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. However the style suits the content and it works. Mean Girls is a parody of high school life and the video effects add to the caricature nature of the piece.
Mean Girls is without a doubt one of the funniest shows on Broadway. With a cult following, teens are certainly the target demographic but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s no fun for the older generation(s). A satirical view of high school, Mean Girls also touches on some serious themes including bullying, sexuality, betrayal and identity.
However, Mean Girls is ultimately a story of self-discovery, redemption and acceptance and a celebration of everyone’s individuality. The stirring final number I See Stars perfectly encapsulates this sentiment, ultimately reinforcing that “we’re all stars”.