LIKE MOST FRESHMEN, I struggled to assimilate smoothly into the rough and tumble environment that is high school, in terms of both academics and social life. I was bullied. I was a bully. I found it all too easy to slip into cruelty, a mistake many teenage girls make. Thankfully, about halfway through my freshman year, my older sister decided it was time I saw the movie Mean Girls, now one of my top 10 favorite films. You can imagine my nerdy delight when, in 2017, I heard it was being adapted for Broadway. In November 2019, I caught a performance of the Mean Girls national tour at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Mean Girls was composed by Jeff Richmond, with lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and book by Tina Fey, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. The story follows 16-year-old Cady Heron. After a lifetime of homeschooling, Cady becomes a new student at North Shore High, a school ruled by a group of teenage girls commonly referred to as The Plastics. Cady is taken under the wing of school pariahs Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard, who convince her to go undercover and join The Plastics to destroy them from the inside and end their reign of terror.

The audience sees almost everything from Cady’s perspective. We follow her as she learns to navigate the jungle-like halls of North Shore High, as she falls for classmate Aaron Samuels, and as she befriends The Plastics. It is essential that, despite Cady’s faults — which become increasingly evident as the story progresses  we still like and root for her. Danielle Wade, who portrayed Cady, made the character adorably charming and warm. In Act 1, Wade performed the song “Stupid with Love,” which is about Cady’s instant crush on Aaron (Adante Carter) when they meet in math class. Wade balanced the amusing and heartfelt elements of the song and provided a key glimpse into Cady’s internal struggle.

The apparent antagonist of the show is Regina George. She’s the leader of The Plastics and, according to some, evil Barbie incarnate. She was portrayed by Mariah Rose Faith, who tuned in to the hauntingly intimidating aspects of the character, along with the unexpectedly sympathetic. Faith’s version of Regina was somehow a beauty queen, a vicious dictator, and a deeply lonely young woman, all at the same time. The most powerful moment of the show belonged to Faith, when, in Act 2, she performed the song “World Burn,” during which she decides to reveal the previously confidential contents of the infamous Burn Book to the rest of the school, inciting chaos. Faith displayed impressive vocal abilities, providing the raw, slightly terrifying power needed to perform this passionate song.

As Janis, Mary Kate Morrissey offered a compelling performance of “I’d Rather Be Me” in the national tour of Mean Girls.
As Janis, Mary Kate Morrissey offered a compelling performance of “I’d Rather Be Me” in the national tour of Mean Girls. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard, played by Mary Kate Morrissey and Eric Huffman respectively, are undeniably an iconic duo. They serve as both narrators and pivotal characters. They teach Cady everything she needs to know about the North Shore High ecosystem. Although Morrissey and Huffman were hilarious together, especially in the opening song “A Cautionary Tale,” they were also noteworthy on their own. In Act 2, when the teenage girls are gathered and asked to apologize to one another, Janis sings “I’d Rather Be Me,” where she declares that she will never again talk about another girl behind her back. Morrissey was compelling while performing this song, with genuine spirit and fervor behind every word. Huffman’s two songs displayed his dynamic stage presence. In Act 1, he sang “Where Do You Belong?” as a tell-all guide to the high school lunchroom, and in Act 2, he sang “Stop,” a helpful warning against giving in to reckless technological whims. Huffman was awe-inspiring, laugh-out-loud funny, and surprisingly informative while performing both.

Where would Regina George be without her “evil band of loyal followers”? Gretchen Wieners (Megan Masako Haley) and Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer) are the other two, allegedly less important, members of The Plastics. Both Haley and Saxer displayed high energy and impeccable comedic timing in “Meet the Plastics” and elsewhere. Haley’s performance as Gretchen was acutely fascinating; she embraced the role as the insecure-secure “best frenemy” of Regina with ease and gave the character new depth. Haley felt profoundly sincere and soberingly empathetic when she sang “What’s Wrong with Me?” featuring Gretchen’s lament over her lack of self-confidence and fear of Regina/Cady.

Projected backgrounds helped create rapid scene transitions in the national tour of Mean Girls.
Projected backgrounds helped create rapid scene transitions in the national tour of Mean Girls. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The most interesting technical aspects of the show by far were the multitude of projected backgrounds that created rapid transitions and helped set the tone of certain moments. For example, during the song “Revenge Party,” in which Janis, Damian, and Cady sing about their plan to destroy Regina, the background projection featured falling balloons interspersed with several severed heads of Regina herself. In addition to being quite funny, these visuals amplified the surreal mood of the situation. The projections were also used to great effect in the song “Apex Predator,” when Regina leads The Plastics through the shopping mall while the entire background turns a bright, dazzling pink, signifying their enormous influence and fabulous lifestyle. The only time the jokes projected on the background felt forced occurred before the show. The audience is greeted by projections of pages from the Burn Book with scribbled notes such as “0 likes, 0 followers” and “Basic AF.” While this was an attempt at further “modernizing” an already modern musical, as a teenager myself, I can tell when adult writers try a little too hard to relate to the “youth.”

Mean Girls is wonderfully creative and brilliantly funny but also has a lot of heart. Its universal message about treating others with kindness extends far beyond high school. Like the film version, the musical does not shy away from outlandish gags and bizarre visuals (for example, dressing someone up as “sexy corn” for Halloween or employing animal noises). By embracing these odd choices, the show displays the sometimes baffling, sometimes grotesque, and always engaging life of the modern-day teenager. Mean Girls has proven itself an enduring film, and now I can say with confidence that the adaptation will remain a musical theatre staple as well.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Critics Are Artists Too

    Critics Are Artists Too

    My Thespian Journey

    Mar 10, 2020

    Music, the Food of Love

    Music, the Food of Love

    Embrace the universal rhythm of The Band’s Visit

    Feb 11, 2020

    Journey to the Past

    Journey to the Past

    Anastasia is a beautiful musical about history, family, and self-acceptance

    Jul 08, 2019