|Cady meets the Plastics, photo @ Joan Marcus|
Mean Girls is a musical adaptation of the 2004 movie. Tina Fey (30 Rock, SNL) wrote the screenplay and adapted the screenplay into a book musical. If I were to judge Mean Girls strictly as a play, it's one of the best plays I've ever seen. Yes much of the book is recycled from the movie, but Fey has updated and tweaked the screenplay into a great stage play. Predictably social media is now a big part of Mean Girls, as are some ad-libbed lines that reflect current popular culture. There is one about J.R. Smith "stepping it up for Lebron" that had the audiences rolling. But the emotional truth of Fey's writing is what makes Mean Girls worth watching. Fey understands adolescence, and understands the terrors that are a part of any high school experience. It's that core of empathy that makes Mean Girls among the best musicals about adolescence. It's certainly better than Grease.
|Erika Henningsen as Cady, photo @ Sara Krulwich|
If only Fey had found a musical team that could have elevated the "music" part of the musical. The score is by her husband Jeff Richmond, and it's, well, mediocre. The songs are pleasant but forgettable. It's often a form of loud and charmless pop-rock, with none of the subtlety and nuance of Fey's book. Even more mundane are the lyrics by Nell Benjamin. From Fey's now iconic witticisms ("Stop trying to make fetch happen, it's not going to happen!" "Is butter a carb?" "Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off-limits to friends. That's just, like, the rules of feminism." "Halloween is the one night of the year when you can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it") we get such inspired lyrics as:
So I will not act all innocentI won't fake apologizeLet's just fight and make up, and not tell these lies,Let's call our damage evenClean the slate till it's like newIt's a new life for meWhere I'd rather be meI'd rather be me than be with you
|"Stop," the big tap number, photo @ Sara Krulwich|
I saw Mean Girls on a night when both Regina (normally Taylor Lauderman) and Gretchen (normally Ashley Park) were out. Their understudies were fine, although Becca Petersen as Regina had slurry diction and Zurin Villanueva came across as too knowing for the innocent Gretchen. As for the regular members: Erika Henningsen (Cady) lacks the winsome charm of Lindsay Lohan (the movie Cady) but has a nice voice. Kerry Butler however was great in the role of both Mrs. Norbury the math teacher and Mrs. Heron and Mrs. George (the moms of Cady and Regina). I also enjoyed the incredible dance skills of Grey Henson as "too gay to function" Damian Hubbard. Kate Rockwell is a bit too mature looking to be believable as the dimwitted teen Karen, but she does act well. However most of the cast was so loudly miked as to be ear-splitting, and almost all of them sing in that nasal Broadway belt that is so abrasive to hear for two and a half hours.
As I said, this was a great play with music that one sort of had to tolerate. I kept thinking what Tina Fey and a reincarnated Cole Porter could have done together. As is, Mean Girls is a cute and enjoyable musical that misses greatness by a large mark.
|Playbill signed by Mart Crowley and cast|
The OBC made a movie in 1970. I've seen the movie but the live theater experience was so much better, as the audience response to the deadpan humor enhanced the experience. (Sadly, most of the OBC died of AIDS).
|The birthday party before it turns south, photo @ Joan Marcus|
|A dance party, photo @ Joan Marcus|
The play is flawed. There's an artificiality to the premise of the play that becomes more intrusive as the evening progresses. The birthday party where no one likes each other is too obviously a plot device. So is the telephone game. So even when the big emotional moments arrive the audience is always too aware of the gears turning. However Crowley like Fey has natural wit, and the humor and sharpness of the writing keep the audience's interest. (One line: "There's one thing to be said about masturbation: you certainly don't have to look your best.") And either way, this seminal gay play deserves to be seen in the theater, warts and all. Compare 1968 to 2018. You see how the LGBT community has more agency and acceptance in America, but how much of the play still rings true. There's still "great work" that needs to be done.
The ending is very ambiguous. Alan ends up calling his wife, instead of "Justin Stewart" whom Michael said Alan had an affair with in college. However Michael's devastation over Alan's phone call made me think: is Michael "Justin Stewart"? Was the whole point of the telephone game so Michael would get a call from Alan?