Quick Change Reviews - Mean Girls (Broadway)
How do you take a cult classic movie, nearly 15 years after it was released, and repackage it back to an audience, live on stage? Tina Fey; comedic goddess and genius writer takes this as no mean feat. For girl-world has not changed all that much, rather it has evolved as social media and the internet adds another level to the hierarchy. Still set in an Illinois high school and telling the age old story of a new kid finding her place in the pecking order, this version removes savage three way phone calls, the cool mum recording the winter talent show disaster on her cam recorder and exchanges these moments with viral memes, a nod to our queen and saviour, Ru Paul and references to the Twitter accounts of a certain President. As Regina George recalls; “If you're going to be happy in life, Cady, you have to not care what people say about you. Like truly not care. That's what I keep trying to explain to the president on Twitter but he blocked me.”
Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin’s (Legally Blonde) score is a high-speed, energetic, tongue twister that propels a listener through high school. It’s chaotic with the conflicting voices of our characters and raunchy with teenage hormones and tensions. An out of hand house party is soundtracked to 'Whose House Is This,' an ironic, almost cringeworthy rap number that would only work in this satirical, bubblegum world of Mean. The one-time anthem of insecurity, 'What’s Wrong With Me?' from Gretchen (Krystina Alabado) propels the plot but is reprised and becomes an ongoing bittersweet joke. Regina George’s (Reneé Rapp) numbers feature monotonous lyrics on glossy music, embodying the plastic doll persona with a vampy, sultry edge in 'Someone Gets Hurt.' Our good guy narrators; the “almost too gay to function” Damian Hubbard (Grey Henson), gives us the tour of the school in 'Where Do You Belong?' which sounds like Olaf showing us Arendelle’s local hangouts in a twisted Disney alternative. Whilst deadpan goth girl, Janis Sarkisian (Olivia Kaufmann) presents a rocky number twisting the knife in our 'Apex Predators' with an Avril Lavigne stance and claws.
These numbers are paired with choreography from Casey Nicholaw (The Book Of Mormon) that almost mimics musical theatre dance conventions and laughs at the ridiculousness of them taking place in a modern day American school. Mean Girls is a comedy musical and whilst it may seem that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it certainly doesn’t mask its intelligence. The ensemble wear musical theatre shirts and clap lunch trays to make Damian’s tap dance number dreams a reality, its messages are focused on feminism and bullying but touch on race and politics and border on satire, the company take on several roles in most part - a special kudos to Jennifer Simard who portrays Mrs Heron, Ms Norbury and Mrs George, and the characters are given more depth than the film allowed. At multiple points, you feel sympathetic to Regina. And not only because she got hit by a bus.
Video backdrops and clever stage movement place you in an American high school from Spanish class to health class to the school cafeteria and out to Cady’s family home and Regina’s bedroom, which is of course the largest in the house. The backdrops are so bright and cliché that they match the fizzling energy on stage and when set against the young company, it works. You don’t spend too much time grounding where you are, but focus more on the quick wit lines. As the show moves forward, it’s like turning the pages in a yearbook, with Janis and Damian as narrators.
The story includes original phrases from the movie script that had the audience anticipating and murmuring along in their seats. Gretchen is still trying to make fetch happen, Regina still gets cheese fries and Damian still loves Danny Devito's work. However, the new story features excellent new lines and jokes that delight. When Cady wears a full Halloween costume, Gretchen responds with “If you don’t dress slutty, that’s ‘slut shaming’ us.” whilst later Damian explains to Cady; “Our prefrontal cortex isn’t fully formed until we’re 25. That’s why we’re not allowed to rent cars! ‘Cause we will wreck them just to make a cool Boomerang!”
Modernised with savage insights into today’s world and injected with feminist values, this is not just a regular musical, this is a cool musical.
Star of the show
Erika Henningsen’s portrayal of the “homeschooled jungle freak” was one to be applauded. Our protagonist rarely leaves the stage as we watch her soar from a young child in love with Kenya and its culture and people (including a five year old who ran away from her really fast, because he was Kenyan), to having a puppy love crush on Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig), her battle to defeat The Plastics and rise to being queen bee. Playing the role with wide-eyed sincerity, Broadway’s Kady is more naive and goofy as she breaks the fourth wall in a wildlife documentary style. She’s desperate to please and whilst being out of her depth, does not maintain her cool like the original Lohan. 'More Is Better', a glorious song with Aaron reflects on the differences between her previous life and now. Henningsen’s act is genuine and as a narrator we trust her, and root for our unlikely hero.
Karen Smith; the Plastic who once put a D in the word ‘Orange’ is given a show-stealing part in the musical. Previously known for her weather predicting breasts and a seemingly naive way of thinking, within the stage show, these are the best lines though they’re delivered slyly as a throwaway. Her simple mindset gives absolute transparency and perspective, allowing Karen to deliver the most poignant feminist messages, and in a truly hilarious way.
As Damian enlists North Shore girls to tell Cady to stop texting Aaron, Karen tells of how she once sent nude photographs without her face cropped to a boy when she was 13 and they ended up on a website called Amateur Tweens. After a brief pause of disbelief, she concludes; “Just teach boys not to take nude pictures of women and put them on the internet.” After all, she’s “actually a human, and not a prop.”
Which brings us on to:
Best musical number
The start of her big number, 'Sexy', sees Karen tell the audience if she could change the world she’d have Halloween every single day, oh and world peace. Realising the order is somewhat backwards, she then amazingly leaves the stage to start over and put world peace before Halloween. As Karen declares her unapologetic love for Halloween costumes “You can pretend to be someone else. It’s like the internet only in person, and with candy.” The busting track sees sexy corn, sexy sharks and sexy Rosa Parks as well as a sexy doctor curing sex cancer before Gretchen informs her friend that sex cancer does not exist. With glee, Karen declares ,“I did it!” whilst ribbon dancing; “This is modern feminism talking. I expect to run the world in shoes I cannot walk in.”
Pay close attention to
The staging reflects the pages of the Burn Book pre-show, during the interval and post-show, reflecting hilarious mini-stories including; “only made the team because his mum slept with the coach.”
Pulls on the heartstring
'I See Stars' could be argued as being out of place due to its sickly sweet sentiment in a world of mean and wit, however the closing number is the spoonful of sugar needed to really cement the message of the show in true Broadway fashion. As Cady sings a lovesong to her friends “you are real, and you are rare, I want to say I see you there,” the company harmonise and there really is strength in numbers.
One to watch
Olivia Kaufmann was on as Janis Sakisian and left the audience in awe after delivering her lines in the powerful duet, 'Apex Predator'. She really came to shine in ‘I’d Rather Be Me’ during girl bonding session after the Burn Book leaks. It’s a preppy, middle finger up to anybody who talks about the gender conventions that lead to shitty behaviour from girls. “I will not act all innocent, I won’t fake apologise, let’s just fight and make up, not tell these lies.” she suggests with such conviction. Ending with the company chanting her name, the unifying energy of the audience was electric as everybody glanced at the person next to them in their seats, and smiled.