The Highs And Lows Of The “Mean Girls” Musical


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Joan Marcus

Cady (Erika Henningsen), Gretchen (Ashley Park), Regina (Taylor Louderman), Karen (Kate Rockwell), and Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) in Imply Ladies.

In the event you wait lengthy sufficient, the entire beloved teen motion pictures out of your childhood will find yourself on the stage. Convey It On hit Broadway in 2012 whereas Heathers loved a critically acclaimed run off-Broadway in 2014, and Clueless and Jawbreaker have been in growth for years. Now Imply Ladies is poised for its Broadway debut: The brand new musical — with a e book by Tina Fey, music by Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Nell Benjamin — is having its pre-Broadway tryout on the Nationwide Theatre in Washington, DC, earlier than it opens on the August Wilson Theatre in April 2018.

There will definitely be modifications made earlier than Imply Ladies transfers to the Nice White Approach, however the present manufacturing bodes effectively for the Broadway run: This present is already in fairly good condition. The film — with its larger-than-life characters and bubblegum pink aesthetic — was crying to be musicalized, and the present does an excellent job of capturing the quirks and quotables that made Fey’s movie an everlasting early 2000s basic. The Imply Ladies musical could not but have the standalone energy of Legally Blonde, however with some finessing, it may get there. Right here’s a have a look at what’s already working and what may use some fine-tuning earlier than the Broadway run.

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Janis and Damian (Gray Henson) present Cady round North Shore Excessive Faculty.

Anybody involved that the Imply Ladies musical wouldn’t really feel just like the film can relaxation straightforward — it is a deeply devoted adaptation. That is smart provided that Fey wrote each, but it surely’s nonetheless a aid to diehard followers. As within the film, Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen) transfers to North Shore Excessive Faculty after years of being homeschooled in Kenya. She meets outcasts Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and Damian (Gray Henson), who encourage her to spy on the mega-popular imply ladies who take her beneath their wing. These are the Plastics: neurotic Gretchen Wieners (Ashley Park), easy Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell), and ruthless Queen Bee Regina George (Taylor Louderman).

For individuals who have seen the film — or, you understand, any teen film — there are few surprises on this musical adaptation. However that’s OK! A part of what you’re in search of in a musical like Imply Ladies is that comforting sense of familiarity, which is why Fey was smart to ensure her e book hews intently to the unique script. There are new jokes and a few minor plot changes, however for probably the most half that is the Imply Ladies you already know and love. And sure, practically the entire most iconic traces (most of them Damian’s) have been preserved so that you simply, too, can cheer at “she doesn’t even go right here” and “you go, Glenn Coco.”

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The Plastics invite Cady to sit down with them.

One of many challenges of adapting a well-liked film for the stage is that audiences come into the present with unimaginable expectations — for them, the characters are inextricably tied to the actors who initially performed them. That presents a singular problem for the actors taking over these roles: They should take some inspiration from the film characters to keep away from alienating followers whereas additionally making sufficient of their very own decisions to face out. Fortunately the musical’s Plastics — Louderman, Park, and Rockwell — expertly stroll that line. Their performances are acquainted with out being mere copycats of the unique.

Park, who proved herself to be probably the most thrilling particular person onstage within the current revivals of Sunday within the Park With George and The King and I, imbues her Gretchen Wieners together with her personal mix of high-strung weirdness and barely repressed self-awareness. And whereas Rockwell doesn’t get to indicate as a lot vary as Karen — outdoors of Karen’s spectacular vary of stupidity — she provides the character a sweetness that makes her extra likable than within the movie. However it’s Louderman who steals the present, as Regina is wont to do, with a efficiency that captures the depths of Regina’s evil and the vulnerability that made her that approach. In one of many present’s finest numbers, “Watch the World Burn,” she rises Elphaba-like from the stage. Being depraved by no means appeared so good.

However what in regards to the non-Plastics, the artwork freaks who take Cady in earlier than she strikes on to a cooler crowd? The Imply Ladies musical correctly retains Janis and Damian entrance and heart by letting them lead a type of wraparound story through which they replicate on the varsity yr that upended the social hierarchy (and led to Regina George getting hit by a bus). Making these two the narrators displays the truth that they’ve at all times been Imply Ladies’ most relatable characters — and the one two characters you’d truly wish to hang around with.

And since it is a musical, they each actually get their likelihood to shine. Janis’s “large lesbian crush on you” speech turns into the fantastic anthem “I’d Fairly Be Me,” whereas Damian will get to rejoice his penchant for theatricality with the primary large showstopper, “The place Do You Belong?” Within the film, it at all times felt like Damian may do extra than simply croon “Lovely,” and Henson is adept at harnessing that star high quality to nice impact. The “an excessive amount of” persona that makes him an outcast in highschool makes Damian the proper match for a Broadway musical. As Janis, Weed — who earned her highschool film musical stripes as Veronica within the unimaginable Heathers — is endlessly compelling, embodying the paradox of an effortlessly cool loser.

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The Plastics collect on the mall.

Realistically, the Burn E book wouldn’t exist at the moment: That’s what social media is for. The Imply Ladies musical has it each methods, retaining the unique Burn E book — how may you not — whereas additionally adjusting to a extra fashionable period. Meaning the Plastics’ disastrous Christmas quantity on the expertise present turns into a viral second. The musical additionally has some sensible issues to say in regards to the risks not solely of on-line bullying but in addition of on-line adulation: A part of what evokes Cady’s imply woman transformation is the way in which she takes all her Twitter faves and Instagram likes to coronary heart.

On a bigger scale, this Imply Ladies feels somewhat extra socially aware in a approach that displays our evolving tradition. Whereas many will lament the absence of the Unfriendly Black Hotties, it’s good to see that this North Shore Excessive Faculty is extra numerous total. And it’s important that one of many Plastics is performed by an Asian-American actor. It will be a stretch to name the Imply Ladies musical woke — extra on that beneath — however there’s not less than a way that Fey heard the criticisms of a few of the extra dated features of the film and made changes. How refreshing that Cady was raised in a selected African nation and never simply “Africa” as a common idea. This stuff matter!

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Cady flirts with Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig).

Harsh reality: Cady has by no means been anyplace close to probably the most attention-grabbing character in Imply Ladies. She’s truly — forgive me — somewhat bland. Within the film, that was type of forgivable, as a result of Lindsay Lohan was such a star on the time that we sort of didn’t discover. Within the present, Cady can’t actually compete alongside the Plastics, to not point out the countless charisma of Janis and Damian. That’s to not say Henningsen isn’t doing a great job: The issue is that there isn’t all that a lot for her to work with. The love story between Cady and Aaron (Kyle Selig) feels extra perfunctory than anything.

Imply Ladies may do extra to provide a way of who Cady actually is. Because it stands, she has generic teen film traits: She’s naive, she’s hopelessly romantic, she desires to slot in. Even when she turns to the darkish aspect, Cady by no means actually has the sting that the opposite Plastics do; and positive, we will’t all be Regina George, however the present may stand to let her be somewhat meaner. Musicals enable characters to show their inside lives by means of music: Cady deserves one thing with extra depth and chunk than the forgettable “Silly With Love.”

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Cady with Mrs. George (Kerry Butler) clutching the Burn E book.

Sure, Imply Ladies the musical makes some notable strides into current day relating to inclusion, however there are occasions when it nonetheless feels prefer it’s lagging behind. And there are straightforward modifications the present may make earlier than it transfers to Broadway that might assist its illustration really feel considerably extra evenly utilized. Kevin Gnapoor is one notable instance: Cheech Manohar is charming, however the character as an entire nonetheless looks like a little bit of a one-note joke. And whereas the nod to The Lion King in an early Kenya section is humorous, it solely serves to underline the reductive approach Imply Ladies has at all times characterised Africa. The musical doesn’t want that.

Then there’s the massive message on the finish. Imply Ladies neatly factors out — like Romy and Michele earlier than it — that most people who make your life depressing in highschool are doing so as a result of they’re depressing in their very own approach. However provided that the characters site visitors in slut-shaming (Karen will get known as out for her variety of sexual companions) and body-shaming (Regina is visibly heavier in any case these Kälteen bars), it might be good to see the present reckon with these dynamics in a sharper, extra culturally present approach. Which may really feel overly bold for a flashy mainstream musical, however because it stands, Cady’s speech appears to return all the way down to how nice everybody appears to be like at promenade, and the ending is very pat. It’s not that Imply Ladies must burden itself with large concepts — it’s that the musical is rising in a world through which teen ladies are considering and writing about these points. The present doesn’t should go deep, but it surely may stand to go somewhat deeper.

Louis Peitzman is a senior leisure editor for BuzzFeed Information and relies in New York. Peitzman writes about and reviews on theater, movie, and tv. Contact this reporter at [email protected]

Contact Louis Peitzman at [email protected]

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