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Review: Broadway's MEAN GIRLS Makes Nice at Music Hall at Fair Park

Broadway Dallas opens the Burn Book and brings you Tina Fey's MEAN GIRLS. Music Hall at Fair Park May 3-15. Don't miss this GROOL show!

Mean Girls

It's 2004. You're with your girlfriends about to see a new movie written by Tina Fey. It's called Mean Girls, and you can't wait to watch and compare the cast to the girls you are dealing with at school. Now it's 2022. You're with one of your best friends about to see a Broadway musical written by Tina Fey. It's called Mean Girls, and you can't wait to compare the cast to, well, the original cast and those girls you were dealing with at school. If you can imagine this, you are imagining how I felt when I saw Broadway's Mean Girls for the first time.

I happened to be attending the performance on Wednesday, and instead of my usual panic about what to wear, I knew immediately what I had to do-wear PINK! Music Hall at Fair Park was packed with pink, and it felt like some sort of homecoming. We were all moseying around the lobby, sipping on the speciality cocktail called La Femme Fetch, taking photos with the Mean Girls backdrops, and silently giving approval to anyone else wearing pink, finding comfort in the amount of true fans in attendance. I mean, let's be honest, many of us have loved the movie for years but never imagined we would be seeing a musical version of it. I wasn't sure what to expect (It felt like one of those the book is always better than the movie situations, even though the original was a movie.), but I was ready for whatever magic Tina Fey had coming my way.

The theater was nearly full before the show was even set to begin. The pink-ified audience was buzzing and silently begging for the dimming lights to signal show time. Finally, it happened, and the crowd erupted. The orchestra began playing a loud, intense number that briefly made me think Elpheba was about to appear on stage. Then suddenly our hilariously charming narrators, Janis and Damian, appeared to sing "A Cautionary Tale," and from that point forward, the energy was nonstop.

The story of Mean Girls is well-known because of the popularity of the 2004 film, but the musical version lends itself to a deeper understanding of the characters. When I spoke with English Bernhardt, playing Cady Heron in the show, she said the "[characters] voice some of their feelings and thoughts in these songs," and after seeing the performance, I couldn't agree more. Nell Benjamin's writing of the lyrics combined with Jeff Richmond's execution of the music (with support from Mary-Mitchell Campbell) allowed the story to be told in a new way, inviting the audience to gain a deeper understanding of the same characters we thought we knew. Yes, Mean Girls would still be popular as a play, but seeing it as a musical added a layer and depth that was fresh and unique.

To make these songs effectively reach the audience, all of the actors had to be perfectly in tune with their roles, and they definitely were. It must be difficult jumping into a role that is so recognizable and celebrated, but each and every person on stage did an incredible job bringing us right to the halls of North Shore High School. The idea to have Janis and Damian begin and end the show with narration was brilliant. Janis Sarkisian, played by Mary Kate Morrissey, was edgy, artsy, and loyal to her friends. Morrissey was the perfect casting for Janis, as she seemed natural in this role full of dark humor, sarcasm, and occasional vulnerability. In the musical numbers "Apex Predator" and especially "I'd Rather Be Me," Morrissey's passionate voice allowed us to see the otherwise hidden emotion in Janis. Playing her "almost too gay to function" counterpart, Damian, was the showy Eric Huffman. Damian's character has always been a fan favorite, and this was especially true in the musical. Huff did a fantastic job putting Damian's identity on display as he sang and danced while speaking truth to the many difficult situations they found themselves in throughout the performance. It was hard to look away from Damian as he sang his lyrics in "Where Do You Belong?", "Meet the Plastics," and his hilarious number "Stop." But let's not forget his most famous moment, wearing a hoodie and sunglasses and saying "she doesn't even go here!" Huff was a perfect Damian, clearly paralleling the character in the film while also shining as his own version.

Mean Girls wouldn't be Mean Girls without the terrible trio, the Plastics. The entrance of these three high school horrors was epic, hot pink brightly blasting the audience as they stood on a cafeteria table. This scene was already impressive due to the rotating lunch tables and the hilarious moving tableaux of cliques as Janis and Damian described them in song. However, when the Plastics were revealed, the tone changed, and the audience was simultaneously smiling and squirming, knowing the chaos that was about to ensue. Nadina Hassan, Olivia Renteria, and Morgan Ashley Bryant played their parts well, absolutely nailing the personalities of these three young yet influential characters. Hassan's Regina George instilled fear in the audience each time she lived up to the title of "Apex Predator." Her inflection mirrored that of a stereotypical popular girl, and despite her cute clothes and captive smile, she revealed her true colors in her incredible musical number, "World Burn." Hassan's voice felt thick in the air, and as each handful of papers took flight, her voice became more and more haunting.

As we know, Regina George wouldn't be Queen Bee without her minions, Gretchen Wieners and Karen Smith. Olivia Renteria played Gretchen heartbreakingly well, portraying her quirks but also revealing how quickly she defaults to everyone else's opinions. This became especially clear when she was alone in Regina's room, feeling insecure and in need of support, and she sang "What's Wrong with Me?" Of course we all know the detriment of intense cliques like the Plastics, but Renteria's performance of this song forced the audience to take a break from the humor and remember the truth of this situation. It was a necessary reality check in the midst of a high energy performance. Regina's second minion, Karen Smith, also gave the audience a couple of reality checks-one being when she said she likes Cady because she is kind, and the other when she admitted to her privacy being violated. Both of these moments claimed a few (hopefully regretful) chuckles but mostly "aww"s as we all were saddened by her suffering yet appreciative of her transparency. These important, impactful moments didn't slow down Karen's energy; Morgan Ashley Bryant's performance of the song "Sexy" was one of her best moments of the performance, and it had the audience fired up. Bryant's singing and dancing was energetic, and it gave the audience the nod to the Halloween party that we were hoping for.

In the midst of a "Revenge Party," a third minion was added to the Plastics-English Bernhardt's character, Cady Heron. Bernhardt's Cady Heron was innocent, smart, goofy, curious, and lovable before she got too involved with the Plastics. The transformation of this character from home-schooled girl from Kenya, to outsider new girl, to popular Plastic wouldn't have been believable without the skill and dedication of English Bernhardt. Each time Cady would venture further away from her authentic self, I could feel the audience tense up, truly internalizing these changes she was making in an attempt to fit in. Bernhardt's convincing acting and gorgeous voice-specifically in her performances of "It Roars" and "Fearless"-brought Cady Heron to life and took us along on her realistically challenging journey of being new to school and trying to find where she belongs.

Although the Plastics are a focal point of the musical, there were many other characters the audience were not-so-patiently waiting to see take the stage. Kabir Bery perfectly played the hilariously obnoxious Kevin G, filling the theater with laughs. His brief but memorable talent show performance was spot on with the film, and his party boy persona in "Whose House Is This?" had me wondering where my invitation was to this house party. Let's be honest...we all want more Kevin G! Another character, or three, that the audience absolutely adored was played by April Josephine. She played Mrs. Heron, Ms. Norbury, and Mrs. George, and that's because she's a PUSHER! Honestly, her performance as Ms. Norbury was iconic, clearly paralleling Tina Fey's mannerisms from the original film. She was a crowd favorite throughout the entire performance, so when she unleashed her powerful voice in "Do This Thing," the audience went nuts! It was a moment to remember.

Even with these superstar performances of well-known characters, the story was successful because of the Ensemble's ability to repeatedly set the scene. I was impressed by how well the Ensemble created an atmosphere of adolescence while also conveying the nuances of growing up. They did this through their beautiful motions (choreographed by Casey Nicholaw) and harmonious voices. One of the most memorable parts of the performance was in the cafeteria during the song "Where Do You Belong?" The focus was on Cady learning about the different groups at North Shore High School and wondering where she would fit in, but the true action was happening all around her. There were multiple times throughout the performance when I found myself watching only members of the Ensemble, and that doesn't often happen.

The intentional costume design by Gregg Barnes brought each character to life, also allowing us to see their transformations throughout the performance. Cady's clothing gradually changes from desert to Dior, brilliantly yet subtly highlighting her shifting personality. There were multiple costumes serving as odes to the original film-Damian's hoodie and sunglasses, The Plastics' talent show outfits, Karen's mouse costume-evoking nostalgia while still telling a new version of the story. In the cafeteria scene, the students in the theater clique were wearing Broadway t-shirts, which I found to be marvelously meta. When Regina George's rendezvous with Shane Oman was exposed, the school mascot costume comes into play. (I won't tell you how or why. When you see it, you'll understand, and you'll laugh your North Shore Lion butt off.) Barnes did a brilliant job designing a costume for each individual in every scene, and without his magic the characters wouldn't have been as convincing.

It is impossible to celebrate this tour of Mean Girls without acknowledgment of the most spectacular element of the show-the set. Each and every moment that passed, I was looking at the screens, the props, and noticing how the actors utilized those props to transport us from scene to scene. The collaboration of Scott Pask, Kenneth Posner, Brian Ronan, Finn Ross, Adam Young, and all of the creative team members was unparalleled. I dare to say this was the best set I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. The projections on the screens were beautiful and purposeful, inviting the audience into the spaces they were portraying. We were able to see the sun rising and setting in Kenya, Cady's plane route to Chicago, the "Got Problems?" bulletin board in a classroom, dull blue tiles on the walls of a school bathroom, graffiti overlaying the brick of the school building, storefronts at the mall, and countless artistic backdrops, like the absolutely stunning brush strokes that surrounded Janis in one of her most important moments of the show. I am still in awe of the impressive skills of the creative team. I'm sure the audience would've loved the story with any backdrop, but the perfect utilization of light, space, sound, and props made it incredible. In fact, it made the show utterly fetch. Mhm, the creative team is what finally made fetch happen!

Of course this tale of teenage angst and need for fitting in holds a lot of power and truth, but the lesson we can learn from the story is invaluable-it's grool to just be you. Watching Cady Heron try to morph herself into what she thought she should be was difficult (probably because we could all relate), but we were also watching her learn for herself that being who she is makes her beautiful. This is a lesson we were all able to bring with us after the show, and thanks to the writing of comedy genius Tina Fey and the fantastic directing of Casey Nicholaw, we got to learn that lesson through hilarity, a bit of profanity and sensuality, and plenty of heartfelt connections. All are invited to come sit with Broadway Dallas and witness this amazing performance of Mean Girls. Get your tickets before it's too late, and don't forget to wear PINK. There are lots of cool people going to see the show, "and you better be one of them, biotch!"

Details:

Music Hall at Fair Park May 3-May 15. Purchase tickets through the Broadway Dallas website. Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Visit the tour website to learn more about the amazing Cast and Creative.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Tina Fey's inspiration for the original film and the musical was Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. In a quick note within the playbill, President and CEO of Broadway Dallas, Ken Novice, provides this resource for any person who interacts with young people. He says, "Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher or a friend of a young person, there are some amazing materials to help deal with the social challenges of young adulthood." Visit Rosalind Wiseman's website at www.culturesofdignity.com to learn more.



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Look out Dallas, there's a new Cady Heron in town, and she's even more 'grool' than you could imagine. English Bernhardt is coming in hot with a performance full of personality, popularity, and PINK. Don't miss out on Broadway's MEAN GIRLS National Tour. Music Hall at Fair Park May 3-15.

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From This Author - Emily Short

Emily Short is in her 6th year of teaching high school English but is a lifelong learner. She attended University of Kentucky for her BA in Secondary English Education and a minor in Communica... (read more about this author)


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