Review: ‘Mean Girls’ Makes Fetch Happen
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, April 12, 2018
If you don’t know what “fetch” means, perhaps this isn’t the show for you. But for those of us who think the 2004 film, written by Tina Fey and directed by Mark Waters, was nothing less than brilliant (isn’t everything Tina Fey touches nothing less than brilliant?), this musical incarnation is pure, unadulterated, super fetch-y fun.
Apparently, Mean Girls, the movie, is one of those rarities: a cult film that didn’t start out as an obscure flop, a la Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Princess Bride. The flick was one of the year’s top ten moneymakers in 2004, and it’s had a long and happy life since. Fourteen years later, it’s as funny, as smart, and as thoroughly entertaining as ever. And now you can hum it!
It’s also surprisingly relevant. The intervening years have not solved the problems of female identity, empowerment, and self-esteem. High school is just as cliquish and painful. And there are still plenty of gals like Regina George out there, the super gorgeous, super powerful, super popular boss lady who rules the school and all its inhabitants, accompanied by her slaves-cum-sidekicks, desperate Gretchen Weiners (Ashley Park) and dopey Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell).
And then there’s Cady (“it’s pronounced ‘Kay-dee’”), the new gal, just arrived after a lifetime of home schooling in Kenya. Cady teams up with arty outcasts Janis and “almost too gay to function” Damian to infiltrate Regina’s posse, The Plastics, in order to bring them down. Many hijinks, a lot of singing and dancing, and even some important life lessons, ensue. There are updates to make the story more current—cell phones and social media abound and they only enrich the tale. After all, texting and posting and tweeting have not made the pain of high school any easier, a fact last year’s Tony winner, Dear Evan Hanson, explored from a much darker perspective.
The talented cast is bursting with enthusiasm and talent, led by Erika Henningsen in the Lindsey Lohan lead role and Taylor Louderman as Regina George, the part so perfectly embodied by Rachel McAdams in the film. A special shout out must go to Kerry Butler, who plays three key roles: Regina’s “I’m a cool mom” mother, Cady’s down-to-earth mom, and nerdy math teacher Ms. Norbury, parts played in the film by Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, and Tina Fey herself—a pretty esteemed comic trio to be following, and Butler does a great job of it. But for me, it was Grey Henson as Damian who stole the show. Every tip of his head and kick of his leg was simply, hilariously, perfect.
And speaking of bursting with enthusiasm, the audience has nearly as much as the cast. Every quotable line from the film was met with shouts and applause, hoots and whoo-whoos. I wasn’t sure if I was at the theater or a Katy Perry concert. There was a lot of pink (well, it was a Wednesday), and a woman two rows in front of us even had a tank top with holes in it where the bra peeked through. (If none of these references make sense to you, you really need to go watch the movie. Like, now.)
The music, by Ms. Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond, has a girl-power, rocking charm, as do the lyrics by Nell Benjamin. And the book, by Tina herself, is spot on, as is the bouncy direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw. My only complaint was that there was too much music— two, or maybe three songs too many. It crowded out many favorite moments from the film, a balance that seemed off. It may be Mean Girls the musical but we’re really there for the first half of that, not the second.
Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street, in an open run. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with 1 intermission. Book by Tina Fey, music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw; set design by Scott Pask; costume design by Gregg Barnes; lighting design by Kenneth; sound design by Brian Ronan; video design by Finn Ross and Adam Young; hair design by Josh Marquette; make-up design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira; musical direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell; orchestrations by John Clancy; dance and incidental music arrangements by Glen Kelly; vocal arrangements by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Jeff Richmond, and Natalie Tenenbaum; music coordinator: Howard Joines.
Cast: Erika Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Grey Henson, Kerry Butler, Kyle Selig, Cheech Manohar, Rick Younger, Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette, Tee Boyich, Collins Conley, Ben Cook, DeMarius R. Copes, Kevin Csolak, Devon Hadsell, Curtis Holland, Myles McHale, Chris Medlin, Brittany Nicholas, Becca Petersen, Nikhil Saboo, Jonalyn Saxer, Brendon Stimson, Riza Takahashi, Kamille Upshaw, Zurin Villanueva, Gianna Yanelli, and Iain Young.
Cover: (l. to r.) Erika Henningsen, Ashley Park, Taylor Louderman, and Kate Rockwell in ‘Mean Girls;’ photo: Joan Marcus.