by Michael Bracken
Time passes. And edges that once were sharp become smoother and rounder as the years fly by. Such seems to be the case with Mean Girls, at the August Wilson Theatre, where the film Tina Fey wrote in 2004 has been transformed into a musical in 2018. Fey is responsible for the book, while Jeff Richmond wrote the music and Nell Benjamin the lyrics.
The musical’s story line hews very closely to the original film script, give or take a reference to technology and social media. And it’s still good for a laugh as it follows Cady (Erika Henningsen), who has been home schooled all her life until now, as she navigates, at age 16, the shark tank known as North Shore High School. But while Mean Girls sends up various high school types, it does so with minimal bite. Its satire could definitely use some sting. It has an instinctive comic sensibility, but it doesn’t go far enough with it.
Mean Girls begins with Cady’s first day at North Shore, where she is jostled and ignored until she meets Damian (Grey Henson) and Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) who befriend her and offer to show her the ropes. Janis says Damian is “too gay to function,” but there’s no follow up on that description. Nothing he does is outrageous enough to warrant the comment.
Next Cady meets the mean girls – also known as the Plastics – Karen (Kate Rockwell), Gretchen (Ashley Park) and ringleader Regina (Taylor Louderman). When they take a liking to her, Damian and Janis tell Cady to go with the clique that rules the school. In exchange, Cady is to report to them “every stupid moron thing” the Plastics say.
A number of intrigues follows, the most compelling being the battle between Cady and Regina for Aaron (Kyle Selig), Regina’s ex, whom she takes back once she knows Cady is interested in him. All’s well that ends well, and it does end well, in no small part thanks to a riff on Polonius’s advice in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”
Mean Girls is characterized by a sameness, especially in Act 1, that slows it down despite its often-frenetic movement. Act 1 has several production numbers that all seem to mirror each other. It’s like a constant refrain extoling the pleasures and, more so, perils of high school life. Everyone is dressed in outfits that are bright – too bright (costumes by Gregg Barnes). The choreography and direction (Casey Nicholas) has a genuine teenage quality to it, but the dancers look crowded and their moves staccato. The music is generic Broadway defanged rock. It would be fine if it happened once or twice, but it gets repeated again and again.
Henningsen makes a very appealing Cady and shows she has the acting chops to create and sustain the show’s only multi-dimensional character. The mean girls tend, deliberately, to be defined by a single characteristic, yet each of them puts her own stamp on it. Evil Regina (Louderman) relishes her power; mentally challenged Karen (Rockwell) is content in her dimness, and servile Gretchen (Park) will do anything to please Regina. Henson and Weed make an affable but unexceptional gay-straight couple as Damian and Janis. And what a pleasure to see Kerry Butler in three roles, the most noticeable being Regina’s mother, who assures her daughter’s friends that she is very much “@coolmom.”
Scott Pask’s set is for the most part a large open expanse onto which he and video designers Finn Ross and Adam Young project various settings like the locker room or the school exterior. It’s all very well done, but I always felt I was in the same place, which could also be said about Mean Girls generally.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Open-ended run at the August Wilson Theatre (245 West 52nd Street). www.MeanGirlsonBroadway.com. Two hours thirty minutes with one intermission.