“There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil stuff and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.”
Snappy one-liners give Mean Girls laughter in the aisles, as high school cliques prove themselves to be predators in plain sight. Based on the 2004 popular film that was partially based on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 non-fiction, self-help book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, this Broadway adaptation by Tina Fey shows this cautionary tale is definitely a contender.
Told in flashbacks by the school’s social pariahs, Damian (Grey Henson) and Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed), we meet Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen), a teen raised in Africa who has been homeschooled all her life. As she finally enters a public high school for the very first time, she is trying to figure out where she fits in.
“You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, Cool Asians, Varsity jocks Unfriendly black hotties, Girls who eat their feelings, Girls who don’t eat anything, Desperate wannabes, Burnouts, Sexually active band geeks“
Cady meets Janis and Damion who become her first friends until she is accepted by the Plastics, a cutthroat clique headed by The Queen Bee Regina George (Taylor Louderman) and her two minions, the unconfident Gretchen Wieners (Ashley Park) and the bubble-headed Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell).
Janis, who was once Regina’s best friend, wants revenge, and Cady is perfect to infiltrate the click. Cady learns about Regina’s “Burn Book”, which is meant to hurt those who are not in the click, but she does not want to participate in Janis’s scheme until she falls for Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig). Betrayed by a jealous Regina, all bets are off. Cady gets her revenge as she starts to turn into Regina and ditches Janis and Damian.
When Regina learns of Cady’s treachery, she unleashes the contents of the “Burn Book”, inciting an all-out war in the school halls. The math teacher, Ms. Norbury (Kerry Butler), makes the girls face the way they have all treat each other. As they confess and apologize, Janis outs Cady during her turn. Cady and Regina get into a fight and Regina is struck by a school bus, breaking her spine.
Cady, full of guilt, joins the Mathletes in the state championship finals and tries to apologize to Janis at the school dance, but gets elected Queen. Onstage, she declares that all of her classmates are wonderful in their own way. She breaks her plastic tiara, giving pieces of it to the other girls. After they reconcile, Janis, Damian, Cady and Aaron dance into the night.
The cast is so highly talented and there are several scene-stealing performances. First, there is Grey Henson (The Book of Mormon) who is just “too gay to function”, tapping out his heart in “Stop”. Barrett Wilbert Weed (Heathers) brings down the house in “I’d Rather Be Me”. She is the perfect smirking, self-assured girl with that f**k-you attitude. Erika Henningsen (Broadway revival of Les Miserables) is adorable, making us care for her and her descent into being a Plastic. Taylor Louderman (Bring It On: The Musical) steals the show in “Watch the World Burn” as she slinks across the stage in these skin-tight jeans. Ashley Park (Sunday in the Park with George) shows us just how fragile a teenage psyche is in “What’s Wrong with Me”. And Kate Rockwell (Rock of Ages) will have you rolling in the aisles in “Sexy”. She makes being an air head the coolest thing in the world. As for the boy, Kyle Selig (Public’s Joan of Arc: Into the Fire) exudes chemistry with Henningsen. We believe this romantic twist and completely understand why Cady swoons every time she sees him. The surprise is Kerry Butler (Xanadu), who makes not one, but three roles her own. Sadly, she doesn’t get her own number to really shine.
Tina Fey’s script is seamless and I love how today’s devices have been incorporated into it.
Choreographer/Director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin) has created a really fun homage to the film, yet made this production feel brand new. His dances really make this show.
The music created by Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond, is danceable, tuneful and fun, though I can’t see any of the numbers making it out of the show, except maybe Janis’s “I’d Rather Be Me”. Also, there really isn’t one number that is truly funny. I think the biggest problem is Nell Benjamin’s lyrics, which just aren’t that clever. Maybe Fey should have penned these as well.
Kudos to set design by Scott Pask, video design by Finn Ross and Adam Young, lighting by Kenneth Posner, sound by Brian Ronan, and the fabulous costumes by designer Gregg Barnes.
I can see Mean Girls getting plenty of Tony nods, but it doesn’t matter what the critics or the Tony voters think, because this show just might become a cult hit.
Mean Girls: August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street.