Review by Kathleen Campion
No one is more surprised than I! Mean Girls—a big, noisy musical (not my thing), based on a hit teen movie (not my thing since…well, never), awash in stereotypes like the dumb girl, the hot boy, the powerful high-school clique, and the outsider desperate to belong—turns out to be one of those feel-good nights on Broadway when you unabashedly jump to your feet applauding because you’ve had such a good time.
Of course it comes down to the talent— on the boards to be sure, but, more importantly, at the production table. Tina Fey wrote the book based on her screenplay for the film. Add to that, Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin, combined on music and lyrics respectively. And then Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon, Something Rotten) directs and choreographs. What could go wrong? Nothing goes wrong!
The plot is the same as in the film — home-schooled Cady Heron transfers from an African savanna to a suburban Illinois high school. Here the predators are a ruthless trio of mean girls who wish to make her over in their image. Cady straddles the in-and-out group worlds you will recognize if you went to high school. Fey has updated with plenty of current references.. It’s hard to miss the practiced hand of this remarkable comic writer. The laugh lines are perfectly paced through the script
Production is impressive. Scott Pask’s set design combines seamlessly with Kenneth Posner’s lighting, Ross & Young’s video design and Brian Ronan’s sound. The coordination is very ambitious and precise. The scene-changes are remarkable. That said, everything moves so fast that, if you pause to admire a quick-center-stage costume change, you miss something wonderful coming on its heels. Some transitions startle you into the next moment. Expect a visually stimulating show with a big “wow” factor!
The dancing—and there’s a lot of it—is exuberant. Wearing his choreographer’s cap, Nicholaw stages broad, wide production numbers that capture that explosive adolescent energy. There is even a tap number! All the songs are new, and some are especially compelling. As Cady sizes up Regina, the leader of the mean girls, she sings “Apex Predator,” a clever comparison between the predators of the savannah and the character of Regina.
Erika Henningsen (Cady), Taylor Louderman (Regina), Ashley Park (Gretchen), and Kate Rockwell (Karen)—all have that remarkable amalgam: each is an actor who moves well and sings like a goddess. In fact, all of the soloists have strong, trained voices. I think they are over-miked but, even with that, the sound is true.
Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis) and Grey Henson (Damian), are our hosts, keeping the story on track as they sometimes speak directly to the audience, and sometimes play their parts as the schools outsiders. Musicals often give short shrift to character development, but these two come through as quite defined. Their song, “A Cautionary Tale,” works it’s way through the action.
It is a story about mean girls but Grey Henson seems to come out of nowhere as he owns the stage every single time he speaks or taps. Of course, he doesn’t come out of nowhere. His solid credits include The Book of Mormon on Broadway, and what’s more, he played Damian in the National Theater’s shake down cruise of Mean Girls.
Mean Girls is a lot of fun.
Mean Girls – Book by Tina Fey; music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin; directed by Casey Nicholaw.
WITH: Grey Henson (Damien Hubbard), Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis Sarkisian), Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron), Kerry Butler (Mrs. Heron/Ms. Norbury/Mrs. George),Rick Younger (Mr. Duvall), Taylor Louderman (Regina George), Ashley Park (Gretchen Wieners), Kate Rockwell (Karen Smith), Cheech Manohar (Kevin Gnapoor), Kyle Selig (Aaron Samuels).
Designed by Scott Pask; costumes by Gregg Barnes; lighting by Kenneth Posner; sound by Brian Ronan; video design by Finn Ross and Adam Young.
Mean Girls is produced by Lorne Michaels, Stuart Thompson, Sonia Friedman, Paramount Pictures, Marisa Sechrest, Ars Nova Entertainment, Berlind Productions, Steve Burke, Scott M. Delman, Roy Furman, Robert Greenblatt, Ruth Hendel, Jam Theatricals, The John Gore Organization, The Lowy Salpeter Company, James L. Nederlander, Christine Schwarzman, and Universal Theatrical Group. At the August Wilson Theatre 245 W 52 St in Manhattan. Through March 2018. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes with one intermission.