Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mean Girls is Deliciously Devious

"On Wednesdays we wear pink."

Photo by Joan Marcus

*Pretty sure* there's nothing better than posting a review of my first time seeing the Broadway version of Mean Girls on October 3 (aka #MeanGirls day itself). Just had to throw that out there for any other superfans.

The Goonies of my generation, Mean Girls is the iconic story penned by Tina Fey long before she left Saturday Night Live's hallowed halls. It tells the story of Cady Heron, a teenager who grew up in Africa and moves to the U.S. to enter her first ever public school in her junior year of high school. Cady has heretofore been socially isolated during her time growing up in Africa and does not understand the American teen psyche; she is completely unprepared for the mind games and harassment her peers inflict on one another as she struggles to navigate this new world.

After experiencing some backstabbing herself, Cady allies with Damian and Janis, two of the few at school who are not aligned with a clique, to take down the school's resident bully and queen bee: Regina, the ringleader of the uber cool (and incredibly snobby) "plastics" clique. The trouble is that although the trick works - Regina is briefly unseated from her throne - the process turns Cady more plastic than Regina was, completely disconnected from her authenticity and moral compass. Everything comes to a head when the full scope of the plastics' bullying is expose to the entire school, even capturing some teachers in its midst. Some hard truths are shared, building a path for a new era of treating others with kindness and dignity in the school.

The original film, now 15 years old (!!), has a veritable who's who of today's movie stars. The cast includes Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Amanda Seyfriend, and a host of other delicious cameos. One of the best parts about Mean Girls is its whiplash-inducing, hyper-trendy quips. I wasn't sure how that would play out in a world of smart phones and social media that has emerged since the movie aired, but I needn't have worried; there have been some smart updates to the book to reflect current teen trends, and the jokes hit their mark almost all of the time.

Photo by Joan Marcus

A surprisingly strong cast helps that humor land, and their enthusiasm and sharp vocals make the story soar. Mariah Rose Faith is delicious as the diabolical Regina; her low alto saunter into every room was delightful to watch. Adante Carter is adorable as Cady's crush Aaron, shining his treacly dimples all over the place. Kabir Bery was hilarious as Kevin Gnapoor, the head of the mathletes; his rap interludes delighted the audience. Megan Masako Haley brings real poignancy to her role of Gretchen, Regina's best friend; she is the first character to crack the facade of teen popularity, and I found a lot of depth in her performance. Jonalyn Saxer is hilarious as Regina's dumb bestie Karen, continuing to surprise. Danielle Wade does an admirable Cady, wresting the portrayal from Lindsay Lohan's memorable turn in 2004, and she makes the role seem fresh. The crowd loved Eric Huffman as Damian "too gay to function" Hubbard; he has a sweetness the movie missed. But my overall standout was Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis, the art student who conceives the whole plot to take Regina down. Morrissey has gravitas and a true Linda Ronstadt-level rock and roll voice. I loved her swag and I especially liked how her character has been expanded to provide a moral arc through the story.

Normally I feel like the excessive use of projection on Broadway shows is "cheating;" this is one of the first shows I've seen that might change my mind. The set is really a dynamic sculpture of LED screens that rapidly shift us between Africa, a Chicago public high school and a spoiled brat's bedroom. Used with some well-chosen props, it makes the scene transitions lightning fast so we can focus on the physical, dynamic dancing. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the choreography, the closest thing to "hiplet" (hip hop + ballet - click here to see more) I've seen on a Broadway stage. It all feels modern, fresh, timely and young.

I've heard many people say the reason they love Mamma Mia so much is that it's a true feel good, positive show and they love to leave the theater with a smile on their face. I think the same case could be made for Mean Girls; it's so much fun to see a diverse, vivacious, mostly female cast having the time of their lives. Mean Girls has a real moral compass and important message to share with today's teens (and their parents if we're being honest) in addition to being a damn good time. As a long time fan of the film I entered this with a healthy skepticism but I'm relieved to report that this show really works as a Broadway musical! It's a great excuse to get some bonding with the Gen Z-ers (or Millennials) in your life, so buy some tickets to take a youthful date before Mean Girls sashays away on October 13. Click here for more information or to get tickets.

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