I saw Mean Girls on Broadway.
I didn’t know what to expect. The movie is SO iconic, the characters are so much a part of people’s consciousness, that both making a musical with integrity and staying true to a movie that everyone knows seemed borderline impossible.
But somehow they did it.
The first few minutes of the show worried me. They tell the story as a circle. Janis Sarkisian (the new name for Janis Ian) and Damian are welcoming new Freshman, and begin to tell Cady’s story. And then we visit Africa, and there’s an entire African sequence where Cady longs to have friends and not be isolated. She fights with her mom (something that was not included in the film), and they agree to move to Chicago.
At first, I wasn’t totally sure where the musical numbers were going to fit in. After literally thinking for a few moments about how I needed to let the movie go and enjoy what I was watching instead, I became less skeptical and more open-minded. But really, how do you take something that already works so well (and doesn’t scream musical theatre at all) and make it work onstage in a different way? The answer to that in Mean Girls’ case is: The Plastics. Cady is an endearing protagonist for sure, who gets to sing some great songs, and has a clear desire which makes her the perfect character to root for. But the moment the plastics enter is the moment the show truly takes off.
The characters of Regina, Gretchen and Karen in the film are very much based in reality. I went to school with people like them, I knew people like them, I was even friends with (nicer) people like them. The musical, on another hand, makes the plastics caricatures of their film selves, which 100% works. Whether it’s Regina (Taylor Louderman) speaking and singing the whole show in a perfectly calculated, borderline ditzy, ‘blonde valley girl’ drawl, Gretchen (Ashley Park) frantically and openly freaking out that she doesn’t seem to have Regina’s approval, love, and affection, not knowing what who controls her when Cady falls from grace, or Karen (Kate Rockwell) literally being dumb as a doorknob, with her schtick being absentminded bliss sequences. Of course, she has her smart moment at the end of the show that pushes Cady more towards the right direction.
In terms of other character changes, the biggest are those of Damian (Grey Henson) and Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed), who very much get an upgrade. They go from side-kicks with moments of big importance to leading characters. Henson gets two numbers all to himself (including one called ‘Stop,’ which is essentially a clone of ‘Turn It Off’ from The Book of Mormon, tap included). And Weed gets to lead what will inevitably become the show’s prevailing anthem ‘I’d Rather Be Me’ (I don’t know if this is the actual title as the songs are not listed in the Playbill yet). They’re fun and hilarious in the musical just like they are in the movie, but they get to show a bit more heart and vulnerability.
Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig) is a bit wasted in his role. He has a ton of talent, and as an actor he does get to show some of it. As a singer, I wish he had more. The character is secondary, even in the film, but onstage he provides a little bit more of Cady’s motivation, so I had hoped there would be more to see from him. He’s way more endearing onstage than in the film, thanks to a mix of the writing and Selig’s performance. They didn’t make him stupid, just a dumb guy there to prove a point, or bad at math, which I appreciated. Thanks Tina Fey!
All of these characters (particularly the plastics) are exaggerated versions of their film selves, but forgoing increased shallowness, and it played very well to the audience. It gave the show far less of a ‘movie onstage’ feel, and more of a seperate entity entirely.
As for the iconic lines? Some are there, some aren’t, some are slightly altered. October 3rd, On Wednesdays we wear pink, the rules of feminism and you go Glen Coco are among the safe ones. Some others start the same and end differently (though I won’t give those away). While it is jarring initially to think you know what’s coming and to get something different, I did notice the audience’s reaction was significantly bigger when a line was new. If it was in the movie, it got recognition laughs, if it was new, it got a genuine ‘that was funny’ laugh. I think the changes they did make to several moments were for the better.
I still love the overall message of this story. There is something about female written/led musicals that draws me in because there’s a balance of emotion and toughness. All of these characters, the actors who play them, and the women who wrote them, effortlessly display a convincing inside and outside personality. I love the notion that everyone, even the ‘mean girl’ IS a person who fights battles you know nothing about. I love how this show and film perfectly captures what a process high school and puberty is for girls, the insecurity and pressure that comes with it, and the maturing that takes place along the way. I don’t think enough stories like that exist. And it certainly is not lost.
The cast were all stellar, but I think Taylor Louderman (Regina) could potentially end up with a Tony Nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She gives such a calculated and controlled performance. The speaking voice she has created for the character is hysterical, and she carries it into the singing as well. Kerry Butler was another absolute standout. But really, when is she not?
I did have a few small issues with the show, but nothing that made me not love it. I was not in love with the opening African sequence. Perhaps because I didn’t expect it. Perhaps because that exposition is all given in the film through voiceover, which cannot be done onstage. With the exception of Something Rotten, I always cringe when someone narrates their song knowing it’s a song with a dance break. Mean Girls’s source material does not naturally lend itself to campy Musical Theatre, and Damian’s first song (at the beginning of Act 1) is full of Rotten-esque musical references that didn’t quite land with me (though everyone else seemed to like them!)
Mean Girls on Broadway was fun. SO much fun. It’s one of the most entertaining and funny things I have seen in quite some time. I think it’s a STELLAR adaptation of a great film. And I think it raises the bar for adaptations.