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BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS is a Musical for the Ages (National Tour at Dr. Phillips Center)

BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS is a Musical for the Ages (National Tour at Dr. Phillips Center)

MEAN GIRLS opens with a warning from the disembodied voice of creator Tina Fey: put your phones away. "You don't need to film this," she tells us. "It was already a movie."

She's right about the phones, but what she doesn't tell you is that this show is different from the movie - wonderfully, refreshingly, most fetchingly fresh.

It's revitalized. It's funny (with new jokes). It's Facebook - er, Instagram. It's Mean Girls meets 2020.

Fey's stage book is so thoughtfully transliterated from its early-aughts source, the familiar lines end up with the lightest laughs (except from those who've never seen the movie... shout-out to the couple who nearly died when they heard "too gay to function," clearly for the first time).

I had fully expected to endure two hours of mass-manufactured, pop-ified, silver-screen regurgitation but instead found a show that just might prove itself to be a timeless staple of the stage. It has Aladdin's ability to reinvent itself across time, but the jokes are funnier, and Regina George turns out to be a fable-caliber villain on the order of the animated Jafar. Her arrival in the 007-esque "Meet the Plastics" is nothing short of epic - a larger-than-life vamp worthy of high-stakes high school drama.

Not all the songs work as well, and there's probably a few too many of them. (The touring production is already down one reprise from the Broadway run.) In general, they're of the unmemorable-but-works-in-the-moment variety, though I wonder if I'd feel differently had the sound mixing at Dr. Phillips Center been better balanced. Too often, the music swallowed the vocals. Only with the cast recording have I discovered some of the wittier lyrics. And come to think of it, those songs are starting to grow on me. "Apex Predator" is clever and a jam.

The tunes are really just a backdrop for the incredible choreography, endlessly inventive in its ability to turn humdrum classroom environs into fast-moving, free-wheeling dance sequences. Desks roll in every direction, pencils provide percussion, and cafeteria trays stand in for Dolly-style feather fans.

Like a lot of theatre snobs, I typically turn my nose up at production design that depends on projection mapping, but MEAN GIRLS makes one heck of a case for it. There's a mall scene that blends computer projection with a few minimalist set pieces, adding up to one of the most memorable set arrangements of the season. Then, its transformation into Regina George's bedroom wows like the best of costume changes... and MEAN GIRLS has its fair share of those too.

The tour cast earns an easy A and never a "she doesn't even go here." Danielle Wade is likeable in Lindsay Lohan's role (and a much better singer, thankfully). Mariah Rose Faith is the diva we need Regina to be, and her fellow plastics are equally pitch-perfect: Megan Masako Haley as Gretchen Wieners and Jonalyn Saxer as Karen Smith. Wieners is the most textured of the plastics, and Haley handles those dynamics well. Adante Carter is swoony and songful as heartthrob Aaron Samuels. Lawrence E. Street is a dead ringer for Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall. Meanwhile, Gaelen Gilliland is somehow the perfect Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Ana Gasteyer (yes, she takes on all three of their roles).

The voice that floored me most? Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis, who handles the show's angry belting and has audience members shouting out in astonishment. Her voice is smooth and distinctive, and her stage presence is on point. She shares it with Eric Huffman, who is both funny and utterly believable as Damian Hubbard (the aforementioned nonfunctionally gay friend).

I would have thought MEAN GIRLS was an artifact of my generation, beloved like a Pretty in Pink but not especially potent for the Zoomers to follow. This stage adaptation disproves that theory, making something new and relevant out of a Millennial classic.

Visit the Dr. Phillips Center or the official tour website to get your tickets or learn more.

What do you think of MEAN GIRLS on tour? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.

Photography Credit: Photos copyright Joan Marcus, 2019, courtesy of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

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