ultes eMost teen flicks are generally forgettable and quickly feel dated. However, “Mean Girls” was the rare high-school-based movie that intelligently portrayed a world of adolescent angst, Queen Bees, and wanna-be’s. Nearly 20 years later, the national tour of “Mean Girls,” the musical version, which opened last week at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, is still an iconic crowd-pleaser. The music isn’t unremarkable, but the lyrics have punch. The cast is outstanding, and the staging, particularly the superb video design, is amazing.
The witty dialog drafted by “Saturday Night Live” veteran Tina Fey propelled the clever film. Fey also wrote the book for the musical, with music by her composer husband, Jeff Richmond, and lyricist Nell Benjamin. The show, which debuted on Broadway in 2018, shut down with the rest of the great white way during the pandemic. It is back now touring the country (and the show is being made into a film musical). The plot may include several teen movie clichés (cliques, the high school social food chain, playing dumb to attract a boy, and revenge fantasies), but Fey’s wit helps them rise above the norm.
From Wild Beasts to Wild Teens
When creating the musical, Fey and company didn’t want to change much about the hit comedy and its fish-out-of-water movie script. Fey did update the “Mean Girls” musical’s book for today’s social-media slamming generation.
For those who don’t know, “Mean Girls” is about a 16-year-old African-born, home-schooled white girl named Cady Heron (played by English Bernhardt now on the tour). Her family moves, forcing her to leave behind the wild beasts in Kenya for the predatory creatures inhabiting an upper-class American high school and local mall in suburban Chicago.
At school, she’s adopted early on by Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) and Janis Sarkisian (Lindsay Heather Pearce), who are proud of being social outcasts (he’s gay and she’s artsy). They educate Cady and the audience with songs like “A Cautionary Tale:” “Mean is easier than nice. And, though mean can take you far, maybe this will make you think twice.” Damian offers a guided tour of North Shore High’s cliques in “Where Do You Belong?”, a lively number featuring clever choreography with cafeteria trays.
Cady catches the eye of the alpha-girl group dubbed the “Plastics.” The clique consists of three of the most popular girls, including the mean Queen Bee Regina George (Nadina Hassan). Her cohorts Gretchen Wieners (Jasmine Rogers), and Karen Smith (Morgan Ashley Bryant) follow her every rule, including demands that the trio don pink on Wednesdays and only wear sweatpants on Fridays. She joins their group but is trying to jostle her way up the school food chain and challenge Regina.
Besides navigating the social scene, Cady has her first crush Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter), who happens to be Regina’s ex. Cady tries to dumb down her math skills so he can tutor her – a move that proves to not be smart. In “Stupid in Love,” she confesses: “I’m astounded and non-plussed. I am filled with calculust.”
While Cady and Regina are the two iconic main female roles in “Mean Girls,” the other Plastics got their chance to shine and be a crowd-pleasers at the Pantages.
Gretchen yearns more than Regina’s pawn. Rogers plays her with the right mix of comedy and earnest longing. Singing “What’s Wrong With Me?” she acknowledges the need to move out of Regina’s gang: “Where is my mind? Where does it end? Maybe I need to find a better friend?”
Karen is not very bright, but Bryant makes her shine. She is a scene stealer, who charmingly touts the need for sexy Halloween attire.
Huffman has several numbers in which to literally tap his toes. One stand-out number was “Stop,” his character Damian’s plea for his peers to curb impulses on social media: “When you feel attacked, that’s a feeling, not a fact — don’t jump online and react.”
The scenic design and video design by Scott Pask, Finn Ross, and Adam Young are also noteworthy. They made “Mean Girls” a visual marvel. The clever set features a wall of digital screens. They seamlessly transform from the African savannah to a high school classroom to Regina’s bedroom to the mall. The result instantly changes the setting and mood.
“Mean Girls” will appeal to those old enough to have welcomed the original movie, as well as those navigating the high school jungle today. The production will be at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood until Jan. 29. After “Mean Girls” closes at the Pantages, the crowd-pleaser musical moves to San Francisco for a month. The tour moves south to San Diego and Costa Mesa, CA, before heading to Las Vegas; Tuscon, AZ; and several cities in Florida this Spring.
Written by Dyanne Weiss
Performance Jan. 5, 2023
Fast Company: “Here’s Why ‘Mean Girls’ Crushes It As A Broadway Musical”
Vox.com: “Mean Girls on Broadway is like a second draft of the movie”
Photos by Jenny Anderson. (L-R, top photo) English Bernhardt, Jasmine Rogers, Nadina Hassan, and Morgan Ashley Bryant in the national tour of Mean Girls. (Inset) Eric Huffman and company in the national tour of Mean Girls.