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Review Roundup: Did the Critics Think MEAN GIRLS Was Fetch?

Mean Girls

Mean Girls opened tonight, Sunday, April 8, at the August Wilson Theatre. The musical features a book by nine-time Emmy Award winner Tina Fey, based on her screenplay for the film, music by three-time Emmy Award winner Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Tony Award nominee Nell Benjamin. Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs.

Cady Heron may have grown up on an African savanna, but nothing prepared her for the wild and vicious ways of her strange new home: suburban Illinois. How will this naïve newbie rise to the top of the popularity pecking order? By taking on The Plastics, a trio of lionized frenemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George. But when Cady devises a plan to end Regina's reign, she learns the hard way that you can't cross a Queen Bee without getting stung.

The cast is led by Erika Henningsen as Cady Heron, Taylor Louderman as Regina George, Ashley Park as Gretchen Wieners, Kate Rockwell as Karen Smith, Barrett Wilbert Weedas Janis Sarkisian, Grey Henson as Damian Hubbard, Kerry Butler as Mrs. Heron / Ms. Norbury / Mrs. George, Kyle Selig as Aaron Samuels, Cheech Manohar as Kevin Gnapoor, Rick Younger as Mr. Duvall. The cast also includes 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.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: That this "Mean Girls" takes place (still at an Illinois high school) 14 years later than the film has proved no obstacle to Ms. Fey. After all, social media only increases opportunities for social climbing and subversion. The disconnect that troubles this musical isn't a matter of adapting to changing times. Scott Pask's set, Gregg Barnes's costumes and Finn Ross and Adam Young's video designs render sociological exactitude with flat comic-strip brightness. No, the trouble lies in the less assured translation of Ms. Fey's sly take on adolescent social angst into crowd-pleasing song and dance. Mr. Richmond and Ms. Benjamin's many (many) musical numbers are passable by middle-of-the-road Broadway standards (though Ms. Benjamin's shoehorned rhymes do not bear close examination).

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: While Tina Fey is one of the top comedy writers around when it comes to social issues, especially as they affect women, Mean Girls gets off to a shaky start with an overload of gags and quips and not enough emphasis on developing empathy. But the pieces start adding up by act two and her book shifts gears from pleasant to hard-hitting.

Matt Windman, am NewYork: "Mean Girls," on the other hand, proves to be a wishy-washy, pointless adaptation of the smart and sassy 2004 film, which was written by Tina Fey and contains performances by Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan and Fey. The primary problem is that the songs (music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin) are underwhelming and awkwardly inserted into the dialogue. As if trying to compensate, the production (staged by Casey Nicholaw, "The Book of Mormon") pulsates with high energy and hyperkinetic movement, as seen in everything from the broad-style performances to the shifting digital projections and all-out dance choreography.

Christopher Kelly, Fey doesn't venture far from the outline of the original movie, in which new girl Cady (Erika Henningsen) falls in with a trio of divas led by queen bee Regina (Taylor Louderman), betraying herself and her other friends in the process. The musical numbers (by Fey's husband Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin) don't grow organically out of the story or characters, so much as feel padded on. (Talk about padding -- the movie was 97 minutes, this show runs a full hour longer.)

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: All of Fey's long-form shows have unfolded at rapid paces and "Mean Girls" is no exception. It's packed with body-twisting and often witty choreography from Nicholaw, whose show, with a set by Scott Pask, is so stocked with stimulation (verbal, physical, digital) that it rests not for a second, a choice that does not help Henningsen really change, given that Richmond's score, as energetic and funny as everything else here, is hardly centered on self-reflective ballads. But that likely will delight much of the audience who'll be trying to figure out why that dance number had boys in drag (don't ask me) and that one had that Easter egg and so on. At the Saturday matinee I saw, the balcony was having so much whoop-it-up fun, I was worried about someone's tucked-away phone falling and smacking me on my balding pate.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Ironically, given that the musical has a more cartoonish quality amplified by the extensive use of video in the design, the key transformation plays more believably on stage. That's also because fresh-faced Henningsen, with her big, bright voice, brings such assurance to Cady's ricochets from guileless adventurer in a strange land to cool conqueror and back to humbled do-gooder, who is able to see the redeeming qualities in everyone. And Henningsen's sweet chemistry with Selig lends spark to their scenes; Aaron's own reawakening from Regina's spell contributes to Cady's growth as he tears down her misguided belief that "More is Better."

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Beyond the successful recycling of 14-year-old jokes, the other good news about Fey and Richmond's first joint Broadway effort is that her characters need to sing. The angst, joy and fear on display are big in a very hormonal teenager kind of way. "Mean Girls," unlike its first cousin "Legally Blonde," finds the necessary volume to justify breaking into song, whether those songs are about the despair of being an outsider or falling in love with a photo of the Wham!-era George Michael. These are the early traumatic experiences of life that stick in your memory much longer than passing the bar exam or applying for social security. If only Fey's springboard of a book had inspired more memorable, distinctive songs. A few hit the mark: "I See Stars" delivers chewable bubblegum and "What's Wrong With Me?" is a poignant lament from Gretchen, the most insecure of the Plastics. And when the group's nasty leader, Regina, seeks revenge on her new turncoat friend Cady, "Watch the World Burn" turns up the heat.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Direction by Casey Nicholaw ("Aladdin," "The Book of Mormon"), who's assembled an excellent cast, shines particularly bright. His staging packs style, invention and Red Bull-force energy that showcases the material to the max. Scenic design that makes smart use of video projections gives the show a seamless cinematic flow. Fey's book is faithful to the film and, naturally, preserves beloved lines - like "fetch" and "On Wednesday we wear pink." But she's added fresh jokes and updates for the social media age as 16-year-old Cady (an appealing Erika Henningsen) goes from Africa (there's a sly nod to "The Lion King") to a Chicago high school.

Adam Feldman, Time Out: Where Mean Girls glows most is in the spotlight it shines on its cast. Taylor Louderman is sensational as the blackhearted Regina, fearsome leader of the queen-beeyatch trio known as the Plastics. (Richmond gives her brassy, Bond-villain musical themes.) Flanking her are the manically insecure Gretchen (Ashley Park, her confusion infused with real feeling) and the chipper, empty-headed Karen (an extremely funny Kate Rockwell, with a tottering walk and a face like a blank check); on the opposite side of the cafeteria battlefield are the gothy "art freak" Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed, a rich presence and powerhouse vocalist) and the brightly flaming Damian (Grey Henson, whose second-act tap number, "Stop," does exactly that to the show). Mean Girls's gospel of female self-actualization is borne out in the platform it provides for some of the most exciting young performers in musical theater. They bring a lot to the cafeteria table.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Despite vibrant performances from a uniformly talented cast, the show drags, especially in the first act when I found myself eyeing my watch like a kid dying for the bell to ring. And the music, by Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond, is repetitive and not particularly memorable. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw wrings everything he can from his cast, most notably from Barrett Wilbert Weed and Grey Henson, as the outcasts who take Cady under their wing. Taylor Louderman's Regina George, leader of the alpha pack known as The Plastics, shrewdly calculates every move as the cruel queen bee. And her partners in crime, Ashley Park as the eager-to-please Gretchen and Kate Rockwell as the dim Karen, are fun to watch as they flounce about in Gregg Barnes' over-the-top costumes.

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: The supercharged secret weapon of the evening is Kerry Butler, playing three adult roles. Well remembered from Bat Boy and Hairspray, Butler is altogether uproarious here. (While one assumes that no dogs were harmed in the production of Mean Girls, Butler might make your mind momentarily flash to Edward Albee's The Goat.) The rest of the cast is terrific, with Cheech Manohar and Mathlete buddies Ben Cook and Nikhil Saboo meriting special mention. Mean Girls does not apparently aspire to be an instant Broadway classic on the level of Mormon, Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen, but it succeeds as an exuberantly mirthful crowd-pleaser. In high school parlance, Nicholaw earns himself a scarlet-and-spangled A while Fey graduates summa cum laughter.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: If you loved the movie, if you found it as 'fetch' as Plastics sub-lieutenant Gretchen Wieners (here played by Ashley Park) would wish, then you will also love this musical, directed and choreographed with characteristic verve and juiced-up passion by Casey Nicholaw. The book by Tina Fey still has all the sly, biting brilliance and precise observational humor of the original movie, which she also wrote.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Mean Girls is fine. Mean Girls is fun. The songs, by Fey's husband Jeff Richmond and lyricist Nell Benjamin, are catchy enough, the book is reasonably witty, the staging, by Casey Nicholaw, sufficiently fluid. The anti-bullying message is straightforward enough (maybe too straightforward, the show says it twice): "Calling someone ugly doesn't make you better looking. Calling someone stupid won't make you any smarter." But - no offense, okay? - Mean Girls is basic.

Roma Torre, NY1: Fey's book is very funny and warm. She totally gets the teen culture and all the superficial drama that defines the high-school years. And if the score, by her husband Jeff Richmond with lyricist Nell Benjamin, lacks a big memorable number, the tuneful songs enhance the material quite nicely. Nicholaw, who also choreographed, paces the two-and-a-half hour production with high energy, maneuvering between the silly and serious moments with tremendous finesse. The clever video design with non-stop projections is a huge plus as well.

Kristen Baldwin, Entertainment Weekly: In setting this "cautionary tale" to music, Fey and lyricist Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde) have more latitude to explore the internal lives of these now-iconic characters. Though Henningsen's Cady is more broadly naive than the one originated by Lindsay Lohan, her earnest vocals bring a quality of sweetness to numbers like "Stupid In Love" - in which Cady professes her equal devotion to math and her new crush Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig). Henningsen finds her character's edge by her fifth number, "Apex Predator" - a rocking tribute to Regina's top-of-the-food-chain status, and the reveal of Cady's primal desire to be popular. "What's Wrong With Me?" shows poor Gretchen Wieners - played with a perfect mix of comic anxiety and melancholy by Ashley Park - in a rare moment of reflection: "Where is my mind? Where does it end? Maybe I need to find a better friend?"

Greg Evans, Deadline: Vibrant, beautifully sung and visually splendid, this funny charmer - book by Fey, music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin - broadens the original Paramount movie - a bar-raiser for teen flicks - to full musical comedy scale without sacrificing any of the mordancy and compassion that made a superstar of Lindsay Lohan and a generational descriptor of the title. Directed and choreographed by The Book of Mormon's Casey Nicholaw (and produced by, among others, Lorne Michaels, who surveyed this preview performance with the same inscrutable, puckered expression caught occasionally by the cameras of Saturday Night Live) Mean Girls, at the August Wilson Theatre, stays true to the plot (and well-remembered jokes and catchphrases) of the film while smoothly updating the high school mischief-making for the age of social media.

Mark Shenton, The Stage: At least Henningsen's Cady, the character played in the film by Lindsay Lohan, effectively transitions from vulnerable outsider to knowing insider. She carries the show's main numbers, too, with aplomb; Taylor Louderman is monstrous and marvellous as Regina, whom Cady may or may not have literally thrown under a bus. Broadway regular Kerry Butler doubles as both her mother and wronged teacher with skilled ease. Is the show "fetch" or "grool", to quote two of the new words its characters seeks to coin? No, but Broadway may nevertheless welcome its easy, if generic, professionalism.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: And yes, for sure, "Mean Girls" is a chronicle on the superficial side: Some lip service is paid to the evils of bullying, but the evening is pure sendup. That it's a showcase for so many gifted young comic actresses is no ­minor blessing; and the guys, like Kyle Selig, as the requisite dreamboat, and Cheech Manohar, as the geeky showboat, are strong assets, too. Visual panache is supplied by Gregg Barnes's drop-dead costumes and the graphics-driven backdrops by Finn Ross and Adam Young. Best of all, in a marketplace filled with mindless work about teens, here's one that doesn't insult their intelligence - or yours.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Fans of the original movie should be reassured that nothing important has been purged from the story. Cady falls for Regina's ex-boyfriend, Aaron (a very clean-cut Kyle Selig), which causes her former friend Regina and her brat pack to come after her with claws bared.

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