BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS at Citizens Bank Opera House
With friends like The Plastics, who needs enemies? That's the basic premise for the surprisingly fresh and sometimes scathingly funny high school musical MEAN GIRLS written by Emmy Award winner Tina Fey based on her 2004 hit film. Treading the familiar teen angst territory of cafeterias, locker rooms, gymnasiums and shopping malls, Fey puts her characteristically satirical spin on the tensions between the cool kids, the athletes, the math wizards and theater nerds all vying for allegiance from Cady, an innocent newly arrived from the African savanna where her parents worked and home schooled her with only animals for companions.
Life in the wild could never have prepared Cady (an endearing Danielle Wade) for the vicious clique warfare spearheaded by queen lioness Regina George (a venomous Mariah Rose Faith) and her lieutenants Gretchen Wieners (the eager-to-please Megan Masako Haley) and Karen Smith (the delightfully ditzy Jonalyn Saxer). But soon she finds herself torn between the artistic outsiders who initially befriended her, Damian Hubbard and Janis Sarkisian (the fabulous Eric Huffman and Mary Kate Morrissey), and The Plastics, Regina and company, who insistently enlist her into their pride. Unfortunately fame and fashion eventually win her over, and when Cady herself becomes drunk with power, she learns some hard lessons about life, love and loyalty.
Everything about MEAN GIRLS is just right. The biting yet exuberant tone set by Fey's pitch perfect writing is matched by the music of Jeff Richmond and lyrics of Nell Benjamin. The script and score are full of surprises, and characters are never sacrificed in service to the jokes. Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who sometimes can be overly broad and over-the-top for my taste, also finds an excellent balance here. His characters are multi-dimensional despite suggesting cliché, and his dance numbers are always entertaining, full of energy and heart.
A theme that runs throughout MEAN GIRLS is Cady's search for authenticity. As she loses more and more of herself to the trappings of popularity, the identity that was forged in solitude in Africa lingers beneath the surface. African rhythms infuse much of her music ("It Roars," "Where Do You Belong?" and "Fearless"), while visuals harken back to the vast open plains and star-filled nights of the savanna ("Someone Gets Hurt" and "I See Stars.") There are also some hilarious special visual effects, dark and savage and shocking in the way they invoke, but twist, the revenge scene from Carrie in the famous Stephen King novel and film.
While MEAN GIRLS doesn't necessarily break any new ground in terms of story as teen musicals go, Tina Fey and the entire creative team do put a unique and clever spin on the material. The moral of the story never feels saccharine or sentimental, despite its genuine uplift at the end. It's also very refreshing to see a cast top to bottom that fleshes out more than superficial traits of their characters. As a result, MEAN GIRLS is an unexpected treat.
(Photos Courtesy of Broadway in Boston)
Book by Tina Fey; music by Jeff Richmond; lyrics by Nell Benjamin; based on the Paramount Pictures film Mean Girls; directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw; music supervision, Mary-Mitchell Campbell; scenic design, Scott Pask; costume design, Gregg Barnes; lighting design, Kenneth Posner; sound design, Brian Ronan; video design, Finn Ross & Adam Young; hair design, Josh Marquette; makeup design, Milagros Medina-Cerdeira; production stage manager, Peyton Taylor Becker; orchestrations, John Clancy; dance and incidental music arrangements, Glen Kelly; vocal arrangements, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Jeff Richmond and Natalie Tenenbaum; music director, Rebeka Bruce Parker; music coordinator, Howard Joines; associate director, Casey Hushion; associate choreographer, John MacInnis
Cast in Order of Appearance:
Damian Hubbard, Eric Huffman; Janis Sarkisian, Mary Kate Morrissey; Cady Heron, Danielle Wade; Mrs. Heron/Ms. Norbury/Mrs. George, Gaelen Gilliland; Mr. Heron/Coach Carr/Mathletes Moderator, Will Branner; Kevin Gnapoor, Kabir Bery; Aaron Samuels, Adante Carter; Martin Jitla, Fernell Hogan II; Tyler Kimble, Sky Flaherty; Mr. Duvall, Lawrence E. Street; Regina George, Mariah Rose Faith; Gretchen Wieners, Megan Masako Haley; Karen Smith, Jonalyn Saxer; Art Students, DeShawn Bowens, Fernell Hogan II and Blake Zelesnikar
Performances and Tickets:
Final performances Sunday, February 9, 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; tickets start at $44.50 and are available at the Box Office, by calling Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, or online at www.BroadwayinBoston.com