Show/Venue: Mean Girls at The August Wilson Theatre
Date: Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 @ 7pm & Friday, May 4th, 2018 @ 8pm
Starring: Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell, Erika Henningsen, Barrett Wilbert Reed, Grey Henson, Kerry Butler, Kyle Selig, Cheech Manohar
If you were a teenager or in your early 20's in 2004, then you must know the movie Mean Girls! Written by Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame, the movie focused on a teenage girl, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), moving from Africa with her family to suburban Chicago-land to attend high school. The movie introduced many quotable phrases into the American vernacular and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't get the references of "On Wednesdays, we wear pink" or the significance of something being "fetch."
Naturally, with any beloved cultural phenomenon, I was a little hesitant to see how the creative team could make a musical out of this movie. However, as soon as the casting was announced to the out of town tryout in D.C., I was in for the ride! Stacked with Broadway veterans and loads of newbies, what could Tina Fey, Jeff Richmond, Casey Nicolaw and Nell Benjamin bring to the Great White Way?
Even though I first saw the show on a Tuesday, the spirit of wearing pink on Wednesdays was all over the theatre. A few weeks earlier, I'd found a t-shirt that said "Today's Outfit Is Pink" at Zara and I knew I needed it for the show! Paired with a Who What Wear bomber jacket from Target, I was ready to go! The energy in the theatre was INSANE! You could feel the excitement and anticipation all over as everyone anxious waited to see one of their favorite movies on the stage.
Upon first viewing, I have to say that Damian, Gretchen and Janis were my favorite parts of the show. I loved the costume choices made for Damian, including an Alyssa Edwards t-shirt and all of the musical theatre references! And I almost lost my mind watching Ashley Park's brilliant portrayal of Gretchen Wieners! As a Korean-American girl, I love that there was no explanation about Gretchen's ethnicity or reference to it. I also greatly appreciated Barrett's portrayal as Janis, whose costume choices I most identified with. Barrett had the only song that was an "ear worm" for me when I left the theatre, "I'd Rather Be Me," when she stands up for herself in the gymnasium scene, towards the end of Act Two. Otherwise, I had a hard time keeping most of the other songs in my head over the next few days.
During my second time viewing the show (I went back with a few girlfriends on a Friday), I found new favorite moments:
- Watching the development of Taylor's Regina and realizing why she got a Tony Nomination for this role. After first seeing her in Bring It On, then on Peter Pan Live! and finally, as Lauren in Kinky Boots, I could see why she was cast for this iconic role and how she really played up her blonde wigs and altered her voice to embody the Queen Bee to a T!
- Even if Karen Smith isn't the brightest crayon in the box, Kate Rockwell brought brilliance and on point comedic timing to play up Karen's dimness. Her big number, "Sexy," let's her play to her strengths and even ads a nod to the OG movie, with "I'm a sexy mouse, duh!" It's her nuances and subtle winks that really play toward the audience and lets everyone in on the joke!
- Then triple threat of Kerry Butler as Mrs. Heron/Mrs. George/Ms. Norbury. From playing a dowdy Mrs. Heron to the Tina Fey/Ms. Norbury role and earning well deserved laughs as Mrs. George with some sly puppetry, as her pet dog who can't help but nurse on her over-sized breasts! She even gets the chance to duet with Gretchen in a reprise of "What's Wrong With Me?" in Act Two.
- And I can't forget the show stopping dance & choreography from Casey Nicolaw! We get a brilliant tap number from Damian at the top of Act Two, lunch room trays used as percussion and a big Act One closer featuring Gretchen!
- I did leave humming more tunes this time, but also having seen "Apex Predator" performed on The Today Show and "Stupid With Love" on Erika's Broadway.com Vlog, more and more songs from this show are seeping into my musical theatre conscious!
If you're not familiar with the story, let me offer my best recap of the show with a little commentary along the way.
The show opens with Janis Sarkisian (Barrett Wilbert Weed, Heathers, BARE) and Damien Hubbard (Grey Henson, The Book of Mormon), telling the audience how Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen, Les Miserables) came to North Shore High and how it led to Regina George (Taylor Louderman, Bring It On, Kinky Boots) getting hit by a bus ("A Cautionary Tale"). (But nobody died!)
We see Cady in Africa, where she has been living with her parents and studying animals in the wild ("It Roars"). We quickly find out that her parents' funding has dried up and they must move to the US, suburban Chicago, specifically and how Cady will get to attend a real high school and get "socialized."
Upon her arrival, Janis & Damian teach Cady about the social hierarchy of high school ("Where Do You Belong?"), complete with a musical theatre nerd tribute (with lunch tray percussion)! Just as they finish making their rounds through the cafeteria, in roll "The Plastics," led by Regina and her two minions, Gretchen Wieners (Ashley Park, Sunday in the Park with George, King & I, KPOP!) and Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell, Bring It On, Rock of Ages). Here, we learn that Regina is a "massive deal," of Gretchen's eager to please attitude and Karen's lack of smarts ("Meet the Plastics"). Somehow, Cady draws the attention of Regina and suddenly, she finds herself with an invitation to sit at the popular lunch table for the next whole week!? What's a new girl to do? Janis & Damian convince her to be their girl on "the inside" and to report back with all the ridiculous things that The Plastics say and do.
In a clever classroom montage scene, the cast comes out in desks with rotating wheels, as they turn 90 degrees, different teachers and classes emerge; ending with Cady's AP Calculus and the first acknowledgment of her soon-to-be crush, Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, The Book of Mormon, October Sky). We learn that Cady loves math, since there is always a right answer. Growing up in Africa, she was quick to fall in love; with a fellow kid from the neighboring village, with a Peace Corps volunteer ("Stupid With Love"), so she knew math would never let her down. Cady isn't afraid to show off her skills in AP Calc, so she almost gets recruited to the Matheletes and her teacher, Ms. Norbury (Kerry Butler in 1 of her 3 roles, Disaster!, Catch Me If You Can, Xanadu), seems ecstatic to finally have a girl who's talented at math.
After school, Regina decides to take Cady to the mall; she's wearing socks with sandals, after all. Watching how everyone reacts to Regina's presence, Cady quickly recognizes this social order as with the animals she grew up around ("Apex Predator"). Gretchen is quick to try and prove her loyalty to Regina, but yet, she wants to win Cady over. Trying to find a common interest, she turns to boys and finds out that Cady has a crush on Aaron, none other than Regina's ex-boyfriend!
Back at Regina's house, we meet Mrs. George (Kerry Butler, again), the "cool mom" who tries to insert herself into her daughter's & friend's lives by showing them their old "burn book," or where they used to post photos of random students and write mean & funny things about them in the book. Suddenly, Cady sees a photo of Janis with the comment "space dyke," next to it. Confused by why her friend would be in this book, Regina only offers that she was unable to have more than 6 people at her birthday and Janis took it the wrong way. Before Cady can question it, Regina takes Karen into her bathroom to work on her eyebrows and leaves Gretchen & Cady on the other side. Gretchen begins to panic; what did she do wrong to have Regina exclude her ("What's Wrong With Me?"), how can she stay present in Regina's social circle.
As Cady's friendship & crush with Aaron builds, he invites her to a friend's Halloween party. At the party, Karen says how much she loves Halloween, because it's the one time of the year when you can be someone else ("Sexy") and how she wishes it could be Halloween every day! Cady arrives at the party, but not in a sexy costume like all the other girls, but as a zombie bride. Regina can't believe that Cady showed up at this party uninvited, only to find out that Aaron invited her and that Cady has a crush on him (oops, Gretchen)! Regina can't let Cady be with someone that once was hers, so she of course goes to Aaron to win him back ("Someone Gets Hurt"). It's here that Cady starts to see the real side of Regina and The Plastics.
Rushing to Janis & Damian, Cady explains what happened at the party and they devise a scheme to bring The Plastics down ("Revenge Party"). They'll figure out a way to go after Regina's hot body, get Gretchen to break down and collapse the hierarchy of the school's cliques. Back at the school cafeteria, Regina huffs about being on an "all carb" diet, so Cady provides her with some Kalteen bars (which were used to help kids in Africa gain weight) and over time, Regina's body & butt grows and grows; until her costume for the Holiday Talent Show no longer fits! Then, during the Talent Show, Regina's skirt falls off and social media explodes with funny commentary on the size of Regina's ass, how she stepped on Gretchen's face to get off the stage, how Karen pretended to be asleep, but Cady was the one who kept going...suddenly, Cady is popular!
In the cafeteria, Regina waddles in wearing sweatpants and a matching track jacket. Gretchen doesn't know what to do, it's not Friday, so Regina shouldn't be able to sit at their table...she timidly calls this out to Regina. Since "sweatpants are the only things that fit" her right now, Regina tells Gretchen the rules were all made up and they don't matter. Gretchen starts to break down and Cady steps in; Regina can't sit with them and she's not who she once used to be ("Fearless").
At the top of Act Two, we see Cady, who has transformed into a Plastic; new hairstyle, short skirts, cell phone in hand and now nominated for the Spring Fling Queen!? Janis & Damian are having a hoot about the whole overthrowing of Regina, but they're also realizing that their friend, Cady, may be in over her head ("Stop" - cue the big tap dance number). Janis mentions that her art show is quickly approaching and will Cady be coming? Cady realizes that it's the same weekend that she is supposed to go out of town with her parents and won't be able to attend; Janis is sad, but seems to understand.
Now that Cady has become the Queen Bee, Gretchen and Karen consistently look to her for what they should do. Cady casually mentions that she's going out of town with her parents that weekend and they convince her to get out of the trip, so they can throw a little party and invite Aaron, but of course, not Regina.
In the meantime, Regina is working out, trying to lose the weight she put on and caused her ultimate humiliation. While trying to win her over, Mrs. George, finds a Kalteen bar and tells Regina that they are used to help people gain weight; not lose it. Regina screams and storms out of the room.
As Cady gets ready for the party, she preps food & drinks for 8 people, unknowing that Gretchen & Karen have invited the whole school ("Whose House Is This?"). By the time Aaron shows up, Cady is drunk and can't seem to contain her stream of consciousness when talking to him. She reveals that she pretended to be bad at math, so he would like her and he begins to see how much Cady has turned into Regina and leaves ("More Is Better").
Cady chases after Aaron, only to run into Janis & Damian, who post-art show, saw all the party photos on social media and were riding by her house. Janis & Damian call Cady out on her awful behavior, which she tries to blame on them. Suddenly, Cady realizes her true friends and her crush have abandoned her.
Regina, now back in fighting shape, plants a photo of herself in the Burn Book and writes "fugly cow" over it. She then takes the book to the school's principal, Mr. Duvall (Rick Younger, RENT), who is astonished that someone would have written all those awful comments about their fellow students and vows to find who's behind it. Regina kindly offers the idea that only Cady, Gretchen and Karen are not in the book and the girls are brought into his office. Regina has photocopied pages from the Burn Book and tosses them all over the hallway ("World Burn") starting fights all over the school.
It's here that Mr. Duvall calls all the girls to the gymnasium, so they can sort out this problem. Led by Ms. Norbury, she leads an exercise to prove that girls all say mean things behind each other's backs and they have to learn how to coexist peacefully. She leads them in a trust fall exercise, where when it's Janis' turn, Regina is quick to bring up her dreams of "diving into a pile of girls." Janis is quick to call out Regina and her fake-ness ("I'd Rather Be Me"), while winning over the girls.
As Cady and Regina get into a fight infront of the school, Regina is hit by a school bus and ends up in the hospital and wearing a spinal halo. Cady begins to see her social status fall apart; did she put Regina infront of the bus? Did Regina walk infront of it? Do her parents still trust her?
Cady then decides she should confess to having a part in the "burn book" and she receives a three week suspension. In order to bring up her AP Calculus grade, Cady finally teams up with the Matheletes and Kevin Gnapoor (Cheech Manohar in his Broadway Debut!), Cady begins to come into her own ("Fearless (reprise)"). With the support of Ms. Norbury and her fellow Matheletes, they rally to head off to compete ("Do This Thing"). At the State Championship, the Matheletes find themselves in a tie for the title and each team sends their female members into the sudden death round. While the other team's girl throws insults at Cady, she realizes that no one wins from bringing other girls down. Cady ends up winning the sudden death question and the North Shore Lions are the State Champs! (The limit does not exist!)
After the competition, they head back to the school for Spring Fling! Cady sneaks back into the school with help from Aaron and runs into Regina in the bathroom. They make amends and head into the gym; where surprise, Cady wins the Queen title and uses this as an opportunity to apologize for her behavior ("I See Stars"). Cady helps reunite the original Plastics and patches up her friendship with Janis & Damian. And, yes, she gets Aaron by staying true to her real self!
A Cautionary Tale
Where Do You Belong?
Meet the Plastics
Stupid With Love
What's Wrong With Me?
Someone Gets Hurt
Whose House Is This?
More Is Better
I'd Rather Be Me
Do This Thing
I See Stars