Exclusive: How Tina Fey Made MEAN GIRLS Sing in New Movie Musical

Mean Girls hits theaters on Friday, January 12.

By: Jan. 12, 2024
Exclusive: How Tina Fey Made MEAN GIRLS Sing in New Movie Musical

20 years after the original Mean Girls premiered, Tina Fey has returned to the halls of North Shore High to bring the musical adaptation to the big screen.

In order to bring the 2018 Broadway hit to Hollywood, the writer, producer, and star enlisted director duo Arturo Perez Jr. and Samantha Jayne to helm the movie musical.

While describing their first meeting about the film, Fey says that "they very smartly knew and said, 'We think that because most people who see this movie will have seen the original, many of them will have seen the musical, how can we surprise them?"

The film features 12 musical numbers – cut down from the stage versions 21 songs – each of which completely immerse the audience into a musical frenzy. Along with choreographer Kyle Hanagami and Steadycam Operator Ari Robbins, the team aimed for audiences to feel like they are walking in each characters' shoes.

"I think for us, the rules that we set for the musical sequences was just whose perspective are we in and what's the feeling we're trying to achieve and then just using every cinematic tool possible to kind of raise those things up," Perez shared.

"It's one thing to be like, this is what the dancers and the performers are doing," Fey said of the complexities of filming musical numbers. "But where is the camera catching that?"

Exclusive: How Tina Fey Made MEAN GIRLS Sing in New Movie Musical
Directors Arturo Perez Jr. and Samantha Jayne on the set of Mean Girls

The film is mainly told through the lense of Janis and Damian, the high school outcasts who take in Cady as their way of getting revenge on Regina George. Fey describes Perez and Jayne's original pitch as framing the film with Janis and Damian as the directors.

"How would a bunch of 16-year-olds figure out how to make a movie? Okay, they'd bring their friends in who play in the band, but they actually also play at all the cool house parties. Alright, let's get them to do the score on screen. Let's get these girls who are in choir, but also have their little bedroom-pop thing going on, let's get them to do the singing, this Greek chorus that we can create," Jayne continues.

The film also seamlessly incorporates social media into the story, something that wasn't as prevalent during the original film. From TikTok montages to musical numbers shot on cell phones, the directors creatively use modern day technology to expand the story.

"That's why one of the things I love most about this movie is going from the telephone aspect ratio which is 9 x 16, and then you go to cinema-scope and you don't even notice it, hopefully. It's going from like small to massive. That was the most exciting part for us," Perez shares.

The songs, composed by Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond, with lyrics by Nell Benjamin, have also been updated for film.

"I think musically, the instrumentation could be so different than on Broadway because, after working with a live orchestra on Broadway, this is a very different palette," Fey says of her husband's work.

Exclusive: How Tina Fey Made MEAN GIRLS Sing in New Movie Musical
Directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., Director of Photography Bill Kirstein and EP Jeff Richmond on the set of Mean Girls

To perfect the pop sound that fits into the story as good as Regina George's Christian Louboutin heels, the writers also recruited star Reneé Rapp to contribute to some of the music.

After Rapp played the role of high school it-girl Regina George on Broadway, Fey knew she had what it takes to bring the role to the big screen.

"She had the voice. I knew on a really technical level that she was young enough to still play it in a closeup," Fey said. "When the musical ended in the pandemic, she went and did that HBO show, Sex Lives of College Girls, I just was so impressed to see her learning curve of like, 'Oh, stage acting, Jimmy Award-winner, now I'm a television comedy actor.' She understood it immediately. She just is so funny. She really understands the shift to the on-camera acting."

Joining Rapp in the film is a stacked lineup of fresh talent, including Angourie Rice, Auli’i Cravalho, Avantika, Bebe Wood, Christopher Briney, and Tony nominated A Strange Loop star Jaquel Spivey.

In order to create a realistic high school environment, the teams says they had extensive conversations regarding the film's aesthetic. 

"We had lots of conversations about what the school looked like, what the world looks like, and it was really important for us to keep it really grounded and identifiable with teenagers," Jayne says. "We wanted all of these kids to be really reflective of the student bodies that kids see in their everyday high school. Keeping that world really grounded allowed us to break out into these more inner subjective reality sequences."

In the Spring of 2023, the production took over an old all-boys Catholic school in Middletown, New Jersey. Filming was completed in about a month.

"It was insane, but it was really fun," Fey shared. "All our offices were in the school, our dressing rooms were classrooms, we ate lunch in a tent next to the cafeteria because we were always filming in the cafeteria. But it was very upbeat. It turned spring while we were shooting. It felt like being part of a school year that was like coming to a happy ending by the time we got to the spring fling."

"I think for the actors, it was important for us to make it feel like, even though it's the dead of winter in New Jersey, to make it feel like a summer camp in a way," Jayne shares. "So even upon first meeting and bringing them in all together, we were just doing silly acting exercises and having them break the ice because you just you just want to create that safe environment."

Exclusive: How Tina Fey Made MEAN GIRLS Sing in New Movie Musical
Avantika, Renee Rapp, Angourie Rice and Bebe Wood

As the film is introduced to a new generation, several high schoolers are having their own chance to take on the iconic roles as the musical version is licensed to schools around the country. Fey says that high school productions of the musical are something she has envisioned for years.

"Before Broadway even opened, as we were working on it, I just remember thinking, 'This is going to be so fun years from now when it's available to high schools because it has five female leads and you get to play your own age. If you have a gay theater boy in your school, he gets to be himself.' So the old theater teacher in me was like, 'This is going to be good.' I love hearing about and seeing clips of productions all over the country. It's really fun."

As Mean Girls opens in theaters on January 12, the team hopes that young performers find themselves in this new musical version of the beloved story.

"Hopefully, people currently doing the show will come have a cast party at the movie theater and come see us," Fey concluded.

Watch the Mean Girls trailer here:

Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.