Mark Waters’ hit film Mean Girls has become such a ubiquitous presence in today’s culture that one can barely go a day without running into one of its quotes or memes. “On Wednesdays we wear pink”; “you go Glen Coco”; “that was so fetch”; and a dozen other of the film’s quotes have become ingrained in society’s lexicon, with the film propelling each of its actors into even greater stardom, and cementing Saturday Night Live alumna Tina Fey’s place as one of the generation’s most celebrated comedy writers. With so much love, it was only a matter of time before the film became a hit Broadway musical, and so with Fey bringing in 30 Rock and SNL composer Jeff Richmond on music, and Broadway mainstay Nell Benjamin (whose work on the absolutely stellar Legally Blonde the Musical cannot be denied) on lyrics, a new production was born. While the result doesn’t quite maintain the bite of the original movie, or indeed many of its musical contemporaries, Mean Girls the Musical keeps the laughs coming, along with quite a few toe-tapping tunes and a fine cast of characters, a few of which are given refreshing expansions and transformations.
Without the right Cady Heron at its center, Mean Girls wouldn’t work, but luckily English Bernhardt is up to the task. While Cady may not be the most outrageous character in the work, Bernhardt plays her as an especially likable everywoman, an effortless, dorky charm practically radiating from her, especially in the play’s early stages, making it easy to see why someone like Aaron Samuels would fall for her. While often playing the straight man/woman against more comedic characters can get a bad rap, Bernhardt’s connection with her fellow actors elevates every scene she’s in, bringing out the best in each of them. In particular, any scene with the Plastics is a delight, as each of the actresses bounces off each other deftly. The relationship between Cady and Aaron is also adorable to watch, as Bernhardt and Samuels’ actor Adante Carter create very believable chemistry.
There’s perhaps no character better served by the musical than Karen Smith, who has quite a few entertaining moments in the original movie, but who is far and away the most likable presence in this production. She steals nearly every scene she’s in, with her musical number “Sexy”, an ode to her favorite holiday, Halloween, being one of the show’s shining moments. With a film with so much social capital, it can be difficult to measure up to the original actor, but in her first scene Morgan Ashley Bryant forges her own trail, her ditsy sweetness instantly endearing her to the audience, which only improves as this ditsy-ness transforms into a painful innocence and naivete as the play progresses. Indeed, the Karen we find here is more than just the joke she was in the original, becoming a symbol for the struggles of so many young women who are used and abused by older men. There are certain scenes involving more potent subjects that can be legitimately hard to stomach, the writer forcing us to face a reality we may not be expecting from this comedy. Such heavy material could be a hard sell for a character that leans so hard on her humor, but Bryant carries these elements with aplomb, remaining a laugh riot while also emphasizing these important points about the young, female experience.
Nadina Hassan’s lovably malicious Regina George is the perfect agent of chaos in this Mean Girls, her sharp, beautiful features and explosive presence demanding our attention. It’s important that Regina George is seen as greater than others, and Hassan walks the stage like a goddess, going as far as, in one of her best moments, using her own cast members as furniture. It’s obvious to see why so many would want to befriend her, while, in the same moment, also being utterly terrified of her awe-inspiring countenance. It’s a flash-bomb of a performance, a dazzling, dizzying role that Hassan sinks her teeth into with relish.
The roles of Janis and Damian have also been expanded here, acting as a sort of Greek chorus, and it’s a smart choice, as it allows for some of the best numbers in the production. Janis, played with absolutely roof-blasting power by Glee alum Lindsay Heather Pearce, maintains everything that made her the endearing, edgy art chick we all love, while also allowing her feminist edges to come to the fore, culminating in one of the musical’s most rousing numbers “I”d Rather Be Me”, a poignant number that Pearce sells with incendiary vigor. Damien doesn’t get quite as much of an expansion, but brings some of Means Girls‘ biggest laughs, particularly in the uproarious numbers “Where Do You Belong” and “Stop”. As Damien, Eric Huffman shows himself to be a stellar song-and-dance man, pulling off a full-blown tap number (IN JEANS) without skipping a beat, as well as numerous other of the musical’s best numbers, bringing an infectious energy to the work that helps elevate it from its occasional lulls.
Mean Girls doesn’t quite rise to the levels of other movie-to-stage adaptations like Heathers or Legally Blonde, but it’s hard to deny that the production is a night of pure fun. With stunning production design, a talented young cast, and a handful of memorable songs, Mean Girls makes up for what it lacks in edge with humor and energy, and those looking for an entertaining night at the theater will find themselves having an evening to remember.
All photos courtesy of Jenny Anderson.
Mean Girls: The Musical runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, and is playing through Sunday, August 7th at the Bass Concert Hall. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Broadway in Austin at austin.broadway.com.