Review: Funny (and 'Fetch') MEAN GIRLS The Musical Arrives at OC's Segerstrom Center

The stage adaptation of the ultra-quotable Tina Fey-scripted teen cult hit comedy gets a renewed burst of high-energy theatrics

By: Mar. 13, 2023
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Review: Funny (and 'Fetch') MEAN GIRLS The Musical Arrives at OC's Segerstrom Center
The cast of MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL National Tour.
Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Full disclosure: I am admittedly, um, one of those people who can instantly quote lines from the hilarious movie Mean Girls as part of my every day life.

The hit Paramount Pictures teen satire---armed with a brilliant script written by Saturday Night Live/30 Rock alum Tina Fey and starred Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams---is one of those pop culture touchstone films that, upon its arrival in 2004, immediately burrowed itself into many people's brains (including the one attached to a much younger version of me), thanks to its intriguing (though familiar) premise, its spunky dialogue, its biting wit, and its signature Fey-esque sarcastic tone.

A hysterical, almost humorously anthropological examination of the world of modern-day teen girls and their (sometimes) toxic interactions, Mean Girls is one of those satirical movies that just demands repeat viewing to truly appreciate its brilliance. And, judging by its vocal fandom, it has certainly earned its notoriety.

So, naturally, the thought of this (now) teen classic being reimagined as a full-fledged Broadway stage musical made fans like me giddy with anticipation.

With a book written by Fey herself and featuring music from husband Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL---directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw---first debuted as an out-of-town tryout production in Washington D.C. in 2017 before making its Broadway bow the following year. The stage adaptation, to no one's surprise, eventually becomes a cult hit too---right up until its forced closure in March of 2020 due to the global pandemic.

The COVID outbreak, like for many other public performances, is also to blame for the show's national tour coming to a screeching halt in 2020, preventing its scheduled West Coast shows to be seen. But thankfully, the tour eventually resumed and finally made its way to Southern California earlier this year with a month-long stop at the Pantages Theatre in January. Now currently parked at OC's Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, the show will continue to try to make "fetch" happen through March 19, 2023.

In a fun coincidence, the show's opening night performance in the OC also happened on the very first day of principal photography for the upcoming movie adaptation of the MEAN GIRLS musical, now being filmed for Paramount+. Talk about a full-circle moment!

So after all this wait for us who never caught the original Broadway production... is MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL worth a Glenn Coco-sized candy gram?

The answer is an ecstatic yes. Is the show perfect? Um... Not quite (and that's okay).

First off, the show, overall, is pretty fun and genuinely entertaining, filled with lots of cheer-worthy laughs that, yes, involve many of those quotable moments many of us love from the film---even though, oddly, some of these infamous lines were rewarded with a quiet chuckle rather than a loud guffaw.

Just like the film, the stage musical also centers around the arrival of previously home-schooled Cady Heron (lovely-voiced English Bernhardt), fresh from growing up in Kenya with her academic parents, who must now must face the wild halls of North Shore High School located in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.

Life, understandably, is much different in the U.S., where she quickly discovers a clique-based kind of social caste system embedded in the school. The more different you are, it seems, the less likely you'll find a lot of peer acceptance or camaraderie from the popular or even the "normal" crowd.

Cady, thankfully, is quickly taken under the wings of a couple of funny, quirky outcasts: bubbly, out-and-proud Damian (a winning Eric Huffman) and her goth-punk-lite best friend Janis (a spectacular Lindsay Heather Pearce), who feel that Cady might be a kindred spirit. They school her on how to navigate the ins-and-outs of school, including identifying the school's different cliques and where she might possibly belong---which, obvs, is with Damian and Janis, of course. They even try to dissuade her from joining the "Mathletes," the school's competitive math team, labeling them as a route to "social suicide."

But, most importantly, they also warn Cady about the "Plastics," a trio of ladies who are basically the royal rulers of the school. These girls, they tell her, are worshipped, envied, and feared, especially its leader and "Queen Bee" Regina George (the commanding Nadina Hassan), an "apex predator" who rules the school with intimidation, bullying, and unchecked privilege.

A Queen is, of course, nothing without her minions, so she is always flanked by her two popular followers: Gretchen Wieners (the excellent Mary Beth Donahoe, the first of three actors playing the role during the OC leg), Regina's loyal---and nervous---right-hand gal who is hell-bent in always getting her approval; and Karen Smith (scene-stealing Morgan Ashley Bryant), a, um, not-so-smart gal with little awareness of the world, but has impeccable fashion sense.

In a surprising turn, Cady crosses paths with the Plastics in the cafeteria, which later prompts Regina to spontaneously invite Cady to have lunch with them for the entire week---an "honor" bestowed to Cady because Regina finds her oddness fascinating.

Janis and Damian are ecstatic for Cady, if only to send her on a fact-finding mission to report back all the crazy things that happen with the Plastics for them to all delightfully mock later. It turns out, we learn later, that Janis hates Regina with a passion, a feeling that has remained strong ever since they had a very humiliating falling out years before.

Meanwhile, Cady develops a crush on the cute boy in her math class, Aaron Samuels (the dashing Adante Carter). This development troubles Gretchen, who reveals that Aaron is actually Regina's ex and is, therefore, off-limits. But after learning of this crush, Regina fake-encourages naive Cady to pursue him with her blessing, even though, behind her back, Regina is doing everything she can to get back with Aaron---despite still seeing another boy on the side.

And thus begins Cady's new mission, egged on by her new best pals Janis and Damian: to exact ultimate revenge and take down Regina George once and for all---from the inside and without any suspicion that it's happening.

Vibrant, energetic, and very funny, MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL is brimming with charm and youthful vigor, hiding an empowering anti-bullying message in a pop culture embracing package.

Review: Funny (and 'Fetch') MEAN GIRLS The Musical Arrives at OC's Segerstrom Center
Adante Carterand English Bernhardt. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Sure, some of the movie's bite is somewhat diluted in favor of more broad, sardonic strokes, but, essentially, the spirit, wit, and intent of the original is very much still at the core of this adaptation's foundation. Fans of the movie will be glad to know that Fey smartly keeps many of the memorable key things from her movie script intact here, albeit updated a bit to suit the world we live in today---which is now 20 (!) years after the film first came out. Somehow the two decades that have passed hasn't dampened this musical's deeper themes and motifs, now adding the additional layer of an Evan Hansen-esque social media component.

Also enjoyable is this touring show's talented, very youthful ensemble, a boisterous, well-caffeinated bunch who sing and dance up a storm (Nicholaw's choreography is a winner here) and who expertly navigate a busy, high-traffic criss-cross of interweaving characters, much like the volatile chaos and fury of high school itself.

The entire cast---especially its leads---are all terrific, charismatic performers, but the show has bonafide singing superstars in the form of Pearce and Hassan who play two strong adversaries worthy of one another's presence. It's a clash both actresses play their strengths towards and it's rather enjoyable to watch. I enjoyed the rapport between Bernhardt's Cady and Carter's Aaron, and I adored Bryant and Donahoe in their showy, distinct roles as Gretchen and Karen, respectively. Huffman is a reliably comedic presence as Damian---and needs to be my best friend immediately. Extra special shout-out to the superb Heather Ayers who plays not only Regina's "cool mom" (super funny every time), but also math teacher Mrs. Norbury and Cady's mom.

This enthusiastic cast appropriately complements this stage iteration's dazzling, very overstimulating Visual Environments created by combining Scott Pask's scenic design, Kenneth Posner's lighting, and the wow-inducing video designs by Finn Ross and Adam Young that transform environments instantaneously.

To be honest, I mostly attribute projected sets as a sort of short-cut/cop-out for actual use of physical sets, but here in MEAN GIRLS, its implementation is actually its own dazzling star-turn. The colorful, fast-paced projections not only serve its main purpose as quick-changing scenic backdrops, but they also act as punctuated visual aides to help propel plots points, funny gags, and story benchmarks forward with amusing digital aplomb.

Through the loudspeakers, the show's awesome-sounding big orchestra---under the baton of musical director Chris Kong---create a techno-modern soundscape that blends pop music with a little Broadway flair. Some of that sound sometimes overpowers the singers a bit, but very sparingly and not enough to render what's happening incomprehensible (louder mics on the performers might help).

The major change that fans of the source material will notice is that rather than keep the show's setting in the early aughts, MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL presents itself as a peppy, very hip update. Despite now being set in current times---where social media (non-existent in 2004) is now an unavoidable appendage for most people---the familiar story and characters from the film are (thankfully) kept just as they are.

Act 1 sets up everything rather well, particularly its rousing "Where Do You Belong" and "Meet the Plastics" numbers which both, back-to-back, do a great job of introducing Cady to the social hierarchy at North Shore High (and the dancing and vocals are top-notch).

Act 2 feels very much like a mad rush to get to Regina's ultimate freakout-slash-revenge, making the dialogue (and, frankly, some of the songs and situations) seem half-baked. We get redemption, though, thanks to Pearce's performance of "I'd Rather Be Me" a really awesome misfits anthem that plenty of future musical theater college applicants will be belting for their auditions.

But, when all is seen and done, MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL is a genuinely fun time, and is an enjoyable extension of the original movie that started a quote-heavy fandom. I found myself laughing out loud a lot, particularly during the specific lines I memorably love the most. The majority of the songs are winners (I could do without "Whose House is This" to be honest, and "More is Better" needs a rewrite or two) and this cast performs them with energetic joy. If the upcoming movie version of this musical is any bit as fun as this, then I can't wait to see it.

For now, enjoy MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL while it's still here in the OC or when it finally comes to a town near you. It's a strong case for making "fetch" happen.

* Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ *


Photos by Jenny Anderson, courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Performances of MEAN GIRLS - THE MUSICAL continue at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through March 19, 2023. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.




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