On Thursday night, I went to see Mean Girls at the National Theatre. This is a new musical with a book by Tina Fey, music by Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Nell Benjamin. It’s already booked for Broadway. I wouldn’t normally go to see a show on the second day of previews, but it was the only night I had available for which non-premium seats were available.
I should note that I’ve never seen the movie on which the show is based. I gather that it is reasonably true to the movie, but modernized, particularly to account for the use of social media. The plot centers around a teenager, Cady Heron, who has been raised in Kenya by her biologist parents. They decide that she needs to be socialized, so they relocate to Illinois, where she trades lions for the jungles of a suburban American high school. She’s courted by the artsy kids, Janis and Damien, who explain the school’s cliques to her (and also act as a sort of Greek chorus, telling the story to a new freshman class.). Cady’s exotic background also captures the attention of the "plastics," three girls at the top of the school social hierarchy. Regina is the cruel leader, or as Cady quickly realizes, the apex predator of the group. Gretchen wants a boss and Karen is simply a dumb blonde. Cady has to choose what she’ll do to fit in. That also includes acting dumb in math to draw the attention of Aaron. Things work well for her for a while, but go horribly wrong, with jealousy and betrayal.
The main reason I had wanted to see this was the buzz over Tina Fey’s book. That buzz was justified, as I found the book genuinely funny. I thought the cruelty of teenage girls was captured accurately and I thought the behavior of most of the characters rang true. The music was not really my speed and I thought several of the songs went on for too long. Surprisingly, I thought the songs that worked the best were actually a couple of rap numbers, e.g. "Whose House Is This?" in which Cady’s attempt at throwing a party gets out of hand.
As for the performances, Erika Henningsen was very convincing as Cady. I was also impressed by Barrett Wilbert Weed as Janis, Grey Henson as Damien, and Kerry Butler as all of the adult women – three roles which were quite different from one another. But the performance which I want to particularly note was Kate Rockwell’s as Karen. She had just the right touch of innocence and confusion.
I should also note that there was a technical glitch in Act Two, which resulted in the house lights being brought up for several minutes and Tina Fey coming out to reassure people that nobody was hurt and to thank us for our patience. This is precisely why I would normally wait until later in the run to see a new show. It all worked out, but it did make for a late night.
Overall, I think the show is successful and I predict it will be a hit on Broadway. Buy your ticket early.
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