BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS at Hennepin Theatre Trust
Whether you were born in the '80s, '90s or early 2000, you probably still laugh just as hard as you did the first time you watched the cult classic, Mean Girls. Well now, it's back to make audiences laugh in a whole new way with the Tony-nominated Broadway musical of the same name. The show, which originally opened on Broadway in April of 2018, has literally just begun its first national tour with Minneapolis being only the second stop. While adapting something from another medium to the stage can be dangerous at times, Fey has created a hit of a musical that I honestly didn't know if it would work or not.
Mean Girls begins with Cady Herron moving to Chicago after spending her entire life in Africa with her parents. As she transitions from the plains of Africa to the jungles of high school, she begins to learn how much she missed being homeschooled for all those years. After befriending Damian and Janice, two other outcast students, Cady also meets the Plastics, a trio of popular girls led by the deviously ruthless Regina George. She quickly relearns the food chain and devises a plan with her new friends to take down the Queen Bee. However, no matter how many large cats she may have met in Africa, nothing has prepared her for the fight that faces her with catty teenage girls.
I went in with lower expectations in hopes I would be surprised, and I certainly was. Being a huge fan of the movie, that has captivated audiences for more than 15 years, I hoped it would live up to the hype, and it certainly does. Tina Fey, who wrote the book and the original movie, has still managed to bring a sense of fresh adolescence humor to it. She uses the movie as a framework but not necessarily a crutch to lean on. There are many parts from the original source material that make it in the musical along with plenty of original jokes, bits and moments that make it stand on its own.
The music and lyrics, which are by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin, aren't as strong. Apart from some songs, many of them are overshadowed by the genius comedy musings of Fey's book. There seems to be a bit of an identity crisis involved in terms of what type of music this show should be portraying. It felt inconsistent throughout the show. At times it's edgier and rock filled to mirror teenage angst while other times it's like an old 50's Broadway musical. There are a handful of songs that really do stand out including "Meet The Plastics" and, my personal favorite, the revenge and power anthem for Regina George, "World Burn." The latter brings lyrics that gave me chills up my spine.
The cast is really what makes this show shine with Danielle Wade leading the pack as Cady Heron. She's charming and by far one of the most relatable characters as she falls victim to the stress of needing to fit in with her classmates. As Cady, we see the vulnerability that many of us also felt while going into high school. Within the first few songs Wade's vocals show off strong vocal energy and she never loses steam throughout the show.
By far one of the hardest duos to play in the show, in my opinion, would be Damian and Janis, played by Eric Huffman and Mary Kate Morrissey. These two roles are iconic in the movie with plenty of one liners that make the list of the most quotable moments from the movie. Huffman and Morrissey bring their own unique spin to the characters and it never feels like a copy of the original roles. While the show is fairly caricature like, as well as many of the characters, Huffman gives Damian a realistic portrayal of a queer student. He never plays him too over the top but still big enough to know exactly who he is...often we relate to him in more ways than one.
As much as you love to hate the antagonists of a show, I can't help but fall in love with the Plastics. As a trio, they are fantastic, but they also stand on their own two heels as individuals. Megan Masako Haley plays Gretchen Wieners and, like Cady, is extremely relatable in her constant anxious states. I could write an entire essay on how important the role of Gretchen is in terms of mental health and Masako Haley plays her wonderfully. Jonalyn Saxer plays Karen Smith and is so adorably...well...dumb. Saxer has a number of new scenes that are fresh to the musical and show her comedic timing well.
As phenomenal as the entire cast is, I can't help but gush over Mariah Rose Faith's performance as the Queen Bee, Regina George. Faith brings the perfect amount of venom in her scenes while also charming audiences and other characters as the good girl next door. Something that differs from the movie is the sense of vulnerability that Regina receives. There is more time for audiences to feel bad for her until she takes a twist and begins to scheme. Next to Cady, Regina's songs need an incredible range and Faith hits each and every note perfectly.
Mean Girls is smart, funny and honestly campy. Whether you're new to the story, an avid fan of the movie or just want a fun night out to experience something new, Mean Girls is the one to go to. I'll give a piece of advice though....don't forget to wear pink.
Mean Girls plays at the Orpheum Theatre now through Oct. 13.