August Wilson Theatre
245 West 52nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 31, $99 - $199
Last year the August Wilson Theatre was home to Groundhog Day, an outstanding, underappreciated musical based on Harold Ramis’s 1993 hit comedy. It’s nearly déjà vu all over again as the theater is now the residence of another outstanding musical version of a beloved film, Mean Girls; however, with tickets currently available through March 2019, it may be there a whole lot longer than Groundhog Day was. And like its predecessor, Mean Girls gets just about everything right; the only thing clearly missing are cheese fries at the concession stand. Mark Waters’s 2004 film about a new girl experiencing all the awful trials and tribulations of high school was written by Tina Fey, who also wrote the book of the musical, doing a superb job of reimagining and updating the story for the Broadway stage, at least until the disappointingly sappy ending. The show opens with outcasts Damian Hubbard (Grey Henson) and Janis Sarkisian (Barrett Wilbert Weed) warning the audience about what they are going to see. “It’s a cautionary tale / of fear and lust and pride, / based on actual events / where people died,” the proudly gay Damian sings. Offbeat artist Janis adds, “No one died. / But how far would you go / to be popular and hot? / Would you resist temptation?” After growing up in Kenya with her crunchy archaeologist parents and a vast array of animal friends, Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen) is thrilled to go back to the States for high school with other teenagers — but she quickly learns that it’s survival of the fittest, not all that less brutal than the animal kingdom, as packs are formed, turf is defended, and prey is attacked. When Cady is asked to sit with the Plastics — the cool-chick clique run by the vain and nasty Regina George (Taylor Louderman), with her loyal sidekick Gretchen Wieners (Ashley Park) and the not-too-bright sexpot Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell) — Damian and Janis try to convince her not to. “Regina George is not cool! She’s a scum-sucking fart-mouth life ruiner!” Janis declares, then asks Cady to spy on the Plastics for them. Cady doesn’t want to be a mole, but she’s so desperate to be accepted at school that she decides to go along with it. And the more she learns about the Plastics, the more she learns about herself, and life, and not always liking what she discovers.
Mean Girls is a bittersweet, raucous tale of fitting in, whether child or adult. “Where do you belong?” Damian sings early on. “We all get a box / That’s where we go / It’s stifling / But at least you know / So, where do you belong?” The lyrics, by Tony nominee Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde, The Explorers Club), don’t fit in a box either, nor does the music, by Emmy winner Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband), ranging from rock to rap. (The orchestrations are by John Clancy.) Fey brings the classic tale of the new girl into the present, incorporating environmentalism and cyber bullying as well as a modern-day feminist angle, with her trademark fresh but sharp sense of humor. Henningsen (Les Misérables, Dear World) is delightful as Cady, the role famously played by Lindsay Lohan in the film, making it her own. Louderman (Kinky Boots, Bring It On), plays the devilish Regina to the hilt, with outrageously funny support from Park as Gretchen, who brings down the house with “What’s Wrong with Me?,” trying to find her own identity, and Rockwell (Bring It On, Rock of Ages) as Karen, who gives a nice twist to the dumb blonde stereotype. Tony nominee Kerry Butler (Xanadu, Disaster!) does triple duty as Cady’s mom, calculus teacher Ms. Norbury (played by Fey in the film), and Regina’s ultrachic mother, who gets to utter, “We haven’t had new meat in our little lady taco in so long!” Weed (Lysistrata Jones, Cabaret) and Henson (The Book of Mormon) make a great team as Janis and Damian, guiding Cady, and the audience, through the horrors of high school; the two characters would fit right in if there were a remake of The Breakfast Club. The all-around strong cast also includes Kyle Selig as Aaron Samuels, Regina’s ex-boyfriend who takes a liking to Cady; Cheech Manohar as Kevin Gnapoor, Mathlete extroardinaire; and Rick Younger as Mr. Duvall, the beleaguered principal.
Fey leaves in most of the key quotes from the film without merely rehashing the movie. Tony-winning director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin) maintains a frenetic pace with near-constant movement as background characters don’t just stand still and two-time Tony winner Scott Pask’s (The Book of Mormon, The Pillowman) fab set keeps changing, from schoolrooms to bedrooms, bathrooms to locker rooms. The video design, by Tony winner Finn Ross and Adam Young, wonderfully captures the tumult and gestalt of the modern-day teenager, as updated references ring true and secrets and shaming are shared on social media. “It’s just . . . sometimes I feel like an iPhone without a case,” Gretchen explains. “Like, I know I’m worth a lot, and I have a lot of good functions, but at any time I could just shatter.” But there are also plenty of truths that have not changed over the years, regardless of technological advances or changing sociopolitical standards and mores. “I just wish we could all get along like we used to in elementary school,” a teary girl says. “I wish that I could bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles, and we could all eat it and be happy.” (Good luck with that.) Oh, and, of course, watch out for that bus, and if you’re going on a Wednesday, be sure to wear pink.