BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS, National Tour at DPAC
The MEAN GIRLS National Tour is trying to make fetch happen at DPAC this week. If you like high school drama, big flashy vocals, and lots of pink costumes, then it's the perfect show for you. Everyone probably knows of the 2004 comedy film "Mean Girls," written by Tina Fey, that starred Lindsey Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Amanda Seyfried. It absolutely took over pop culture and is still considered one of the most quotable movies today.
The musical production, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, opened on Broadway back in 2018 and it's still playing today. Tina Fey wrote the book, making tweaks and updating it to the late 2010s while preserving all the great jokes we loved in the film. Peppy music and lyrics were written by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin. Luckily for us, we don't have to go all the way to New York to see it this week.
If you're not familiar with it, Mean Girls tells the story of a girl named Cady who has moved to the US after living in Kenya with her zoologist parents for most of her life. She struggles to fit in at her new high school until Damian and Janis offer to show her around. She soon meets and is impressed by the Plastics, the reigning clique of the school led by the beautiful and self-centered Regina. But when Cady's math class crush turns out to be Regina's ex-boyfriend, things are bound to get nasty.
The music is in a very contemporary musical theatre style, with some similarities to Legally Blonde the Musical. Those familiar with the Original Broadway cast album will note that there have been some significant lyric changes since the show premiered on Broadway throughout both acts, most notably the rewriting of Cady's first song, "It Roars." The score still has a handful of duds, but the rewrites did help. Both the lyrics and the dialogue feel very up-to-date with references to boomerangs and Russians interfering in elections. While upbeat bigger numbers like "Where Do You Belong?" are fun, the music is at its finest with its pop ballads for Regina and Janis like "World Burn" and "I'd Rather Be Me."
Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw is known for his athletic and energetic dancing and this show is no exception. Damian also has a big tap dance number called "Stop" that's very entertaining. There is a fun gag throughout the show with Cady visualizing the students acting as animals because that's her only way to understand social interactions.
The strong tour cast is led by Danielle Wade as Cady who has a powerful voice. She really sells the transformation of the character from an awkward girl getting used to the United States to a queen bee of the school. Mariah Rose Faith perfectly embodies the charisma of Regina and has a fantastic voice; her songs were easily the highlights of the show. Megan Masako Haley has the perfect nervous energy for Gretchen and never takes it too far. Damian is a character that teeters on the line of being just a gay stereotype, but Eric Huffman does a great job breathing life into him.
We had two standbys on Tuesday night: Olivia Renteria as Karen and English Bernhardt as Janis. Renteria did a lovely job with a somewhat tricky character; she nailed Karen's ditziness while also showing that she has more depth than most people assume. Bernhardt is from the Raleigh-Durham area, so it was great to get to see her perform on her old turf. She's tiny, but has a powerhouse voice and also gave a really fresh and exciting take on the character of Janis rather than being a carbon copy of Barrett Wilbert Weed's performance on Broadway.
Gregg Barnes has designed a plethora of costumes for this show; I was amazed at just how many costume changes each character has. Regina's outfits were easily my favorite and the most memorable. The set is largely made up of a large projection screen with smaller set pieces like lockers and beds brought out to further differentiate locations. The projections worked great in some scenes (especially in "More is Better"), but sometimes felt a bit cheesy.
If you're a fan of the movie, then you're sure to find something to love in Mean Girls. Plus, I took my sixteen-year-old sister along and she assured me that it's actually a fairly accurate depiction of high school, though presumably with less people being hit by a bus. Mean Girls is at DPAC until February 16th.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus