BWW Review: MEAN GIRLS Explodes With Power, Sass, And Class And Proves There's More Than Fashion In Girl World At Straz Center
Anyone with connections to any form of Pop Culture within the last two decades is sure to have come into contact with the 2004 smash-hit Mean Girls the film of the same name, which was written by Tina Fey and Mark Waters. From the moment Queen-Bee Regina George portrayed in the film by Rachel McAdams terrorized North Shore High and victimized not only girls but boys alike Mean Girls earned its Cult-worthy status. With quotable lines such as, "That's so Fetch.." and "On Wednesdays We Wear Pink..." and moments like Jingle Bell Rock, Tina Fey, and cast produced a Comedy-Hit that is still relevant two decades later. Now a full year and a half later Mean Girls which is still in residence at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City where the Broadway Cast has been continuously blowing the roof off of North Shore High since August of 2018, audiences all across the U.S. get to experience this relevant and outstanding cultural phenomenon.
As the lights dim on Morsani Hall the Instrumental to the opening number "A Cautionary Tale" is heard and cast members enter the space. Damian Hubbard played by Eric Huffman and Janis Sarkisian played by Mary Kate Morrissey take us on a tale beginning in Kenya and transporting to Chicago where we learn nothing is as it seems in "girl world." The harmonies from Huffman and Morrissey are exquisite and the audience is in for the ride of their lives as we see projections change and we enter North Shore High for Cady's first day in a "real school." The use of puppetry during "It Roars" to resemble animals in Kenya was a beautiful touch and exciting to see Cady transport from the "animal world" to "girl world." The musical number "It Roars" shows off Cady's exceptional vocal prowess in the impressive Danielle Wade and it was exciting to see her journey take flight. The company joins Cady onstage and the audience is soon swept away in tight-knit choreography that was breathtaking to watch. Casey Nicholaw Director and Choreographer respectively laid it all out on the line and I was excited for more to come.
The set pieces were a wonderful addition to show the change in scenery. Whether it be moving desks to portray different classrooms, cafeteria tables, or rolling in a set of bathroom stalls the audience got the feeling of being in high school all over again. Damian introduces Cady to North Shore with the show-stopping number "Where do you Belong" complete with a show choir-Esque ensemble and a stellar dance break this number was a standout, and Eric Huffman's vocals were outstanding. The entrance of our Queen Bee Regina George played by standby English Bernhardt and her gang of "Plastics" Gretchen Wieners played by Megan Masako Haley and Karen Smith played by Jonalyn Saxer was everything we needed and more! From the first entrance during "Meet the Plastics" and every time the trio was on stage thereafter they emblazoned the stage with sass and gave every ticket holder a performance that was gag-worthy from the start. Regina George was the perfect love to hate Queen Bee and English had the vocal chops to match! Karen Smith was the loveable dumb blonde of the group and her mannerisms and one-liners were perfect for this portrayal. Gretchen Wieners was clearly bursting at the seams with all the secrets throughout North Shore High I mean after all that is why "...her hair is so big!" Megan Masako Haley was stellar as Gretchen and her vocals carried well amongst the rowdy ensemble, her breakout number "What's wrong with me," was incredible and truly showed her range. Everyone wanted to be in with the "Plastics" after all its better to be, "...in with the Plastics, hating life...than to not be in at all!"
Janis and Cady's duet of "Apex Predator" was incredible. Mary Kate Morrissey has incredible vocal prowess and can just about sing anything. Janis had a gusto about her and you were almost afraid to blink in a case you might miss something. She had an amazing likeability about her and her presence on stage no matter the number or scene was a Tour-de force. Danielle Wade affectionately portrayed Cady Heron as the new girl with amazing vocal skills. She held her own in many different moments of the show and "Stupid with love" was a delight. When Cady first meets Aaron Samuels played by Adante Carter it proved to be every swoon-worthy moment we wanted it to be, and suddenly every day needed to be October 3rd! Adante proved to be a strong Aaron Samuels and was right on the money throughout the show, he has a strong voice and a smooth delivery and made every heart flutter with a smile and stare. "Someone Gets Hurt" was a great number during the Halloween sequence. The audience really got to see the depths in which Regina will go to claim what's hers and this number was full of great vocals from both Regina and Aaron.
One really exceptional addition was the Talent Show sequence complete with Transformer costumes. The unforgettable "Rockin' around the Pole" sequence complete with Social Media projections was a great moment. Who knew a Kalteen bar would make someone gain so much weight? "Revenge Party" was the perfect number to put into sequence all of the events to ruin Regina George's life, complete with out of this world harmonies it was a breakout moment of the first act. One of the strongest moments in the first half had to be the Character Change in Cady, you see her go from likable new girl to Queen Bee and the transformation Danielle Wade created was outstanding.
Opening Act 2 with a wonderful tap number "Stop" was a great way to bring the audience back into the world of North Shore. Eric Huffman proved he not only had the vocal chops but that he could also tap with the best. Tina Fey and the team should be commended for the stellar job creating a musical so true to the film script/story everyone is so accustomed to seeing. Tina Fey wrote the Book for the musical and did a fabulous job translating this film to stage. So many times translating the film to the stage can be a rough transition and vice-versa this was not the case here. The only thing I would say was some of the well-known lines were changed slightly, but not so much that it couldn't be overlooked. Cady hosts a party when her parents go out of town and the number "Whose house is this" was a great sequence for the party. When Regina copies the "Burn Book" and spreads it around the school it creates the perfect cringe-worthy moment of the show! At the end of the day, after the trust circle, and Spring Fling has closed Regina has the line bringing us all together, a line of unity and empowerment and a line we all had no idea we needed when she said, "Never apologize for being a BOSS!"
A strong company with amazing vocals and tight-knit choreography make this the ticket to grab! Standouts of the production include Eric Huffman as Damian Hubbard, Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis Sarkisian, Danielle Wade as Cady Heron, and English Bernhardt as Regina George. The rest of the Company falls in line with being the strongest touring cast we've seen come through Tampa Bay this season, and Mean Girls proves to be a force to be reckoned with. Just listening to the music you can tell how incredibly smart and unique the score is. I think this is one thing that sets this show apart from others is that it is so Smart and Perfectly written. The Company should be lauded for a truly "FETCH" and outstanding production!
If you are one of the lucky few to make it to the Straz to witness this marvel of production you will be in for the ride of your life! Not all is as it seems to be in "Girl World" but it's pretty darn "Grool" to see the outstanding company create a world we are all familiar with and will remember for years to come! Mean Girls and the exceptional Company is in Tampa through Sunday, February 23rd. Tickets can be purchased online at www.strazcenter.org or by calling the Straz Center Ticket Office.
Photo Credit: The Straz Center