BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS at Des Moines Performing Arts: A Production you will say is so 'Fetch!'
Sometimes, it's fun to go back and take a look at a past time in our lives, especially if there were good memories from it. If someone were to ask you about a time in your life, you probably aren't going to say high school. When we do look back, many times it is to laugh about the memories we have. "Mean Girls" allows us to take a trip back and have a few laughs as we see characters that we have come to love through the 2000 movie, but also that we may recognize as well. This trip back in time is brought to Des Moines thanks to Des Moines Performing Arts where this show opens their 2019-2020 Willis Broadway Series.
If you aren't familiar with the 2004 movie by the same name, "Mean Girls" tells the story of Cady Heron. She is a girl who has just moved from Africa to a suburb in Illinois. It's never easy being the new student, but she has the fortune of meeting Damian and Janis who take her under their wing and let her know about all the cliques at the school and invite her to join them for lunch. During lunch, she is introduced to a group called "The Plastics" who rule the school. When she is invited to join their group, she has a tough choice to make. What group does she stay with?
One of the great parts of "Mean Girls" is that Tina Fey wrote the screenplay and also adapted her screenplay to the stage. I have always admired her comedy, and it is very present in the current iteration of "Mean Girls". Her book acknowledges our favorite lines and moments from the 2004 movie but also updates it to speak to a new generation of students in 2019. These updates were very successful and fit with the overall feel of the show.
While "Mean Girls," doesn't need to rely on big over the top spectacle to work as other shows do, it does allow the spectacle to help with the "fantasy" moments that pop up throughout the show. This was done through Tony Award-Winning video designer Finn Ross, whos designs find ways to make the use of video an integral part of the show. It becomes it's own character in the show as it quickly transitions from scene to scene, and from continent to continent. I appreciated that they didn't try to hide that they were using video. It played well with the idea that high school students were telling this story.
Narrowing down which cast members to highlight in this review was difficult because there are so many phenomenal performances including the ensemble. So what I've decided to do is narrow down to a few groups of characters to highlight. The first is the group at the center of the show known as "The Plastics", consisting of Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, and Karen Smith. Each of these characters has some great moments throughout the show. Jonalyn Saxer gives an amazing deadpan performance of Karen. Her delivery brings some of the biggest laughs throughout the night with the updated material given to her character. One of the surprises in the plastics for me was Megan Masako Hayley's performance as Gretchen Wieners. For me, her character best showed the animal instincts the character has. the build-up to her breaking point where her animal instincts show was fun to watch. Heading the plastics is Mariah Rose Faith as the deliciously wicked Regina George who does an amazing job of giving us all our favorite moments from the movie, but also giving her a heart that lets the audience feel the pain Regina goes through towards the end of the show.
One of the updates for the show is having Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard, become the narrators of the show instead of Cady Heron as in the movie. Eric Huffman does an amazing job of bringing the larger than life character of Damian to the stage. The energy he brought to the character made his show-stopping numbers "Where Do You Belong," and "Stop," two of my favorites in the evening. In a nice juxtaposition, we have Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis. Her grounded performance was a great foil to Eric's performance as Damian. Her powerful singing voice does a great job of showing the pain her character feels at times throughout the show, especially in the painful reprise of "Someone Gets Hurt" and the celebratory "I'd Rather Be Me."
Heading the cast is Danielle Wade as Cady Heron. Her performance is both subtle and nuanced. I enjoyed how nonchalantly she delivered her lines as she gave Regina the Kalteen bar. While her character may not have known how far she was going to go to take Regina down, it gave the audience an insight into how methodic she could be about it. Danielle also has a powerful singing voice as she goes between a quiet awkward sound when she was to a full out belt by the end of "Stupid With Love."
Sometimes it can be fun to look back at the people we use to be. From the script to the sets, to the amazing cast, "Mean Girls" allows us to look back and laugh. Performances continue through October 20. To find out more information, visit https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/events/mean-girls/
Review written by DC Felton
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