Broadway Musical Review—Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls”

The enduring popularity of 2004’s Mean Girls—screenwriter Tina Fey’s dead-on satire about high school cliques, with a perfect cast led by Fey, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams—has inevitably led to a Broadway version. But is updating the story for our social-media age and shoehorning in songs enough to give Mean Girls a new life onstage?

The answer is a qualified yes. Although Jeff Richmond’s songs and Nell Benjamin’s lyrics are the usual pedestrian combo that infects current musicals, Fey has smartly turned her original script into a book that may be even funnier and more pointed than the movie. And Casey Nicholaw has choreographed and directed with smashing effectiveness, his endlessly clever dance sequences (including great tap dancing and use of school cafeteria trays) and inventive movement throughout propels the show forward.

Nicholaw’s ace design team—Scott Pask (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lighting), Brian Ronan (sound), and Finn Ross and Adam Young (video projections)—creates a high school world with an impressive visual sheen that underscores, not undercuts, Fey’s slyly conceived paean to female self-empowerment (song titles include “A Cautionary Tale,” “It Roars,” “Fearless” and the big finale, “I See Stars”).

But making Mean Girls unmissable is its exuberant cast. Erika Henningsen is a charmingly ordinary Cady (the Lohan part), while Grey Henson and Barrett Wilbert Weed make Cady’s uncool friends Damian and Janis amusingly sarcastic guides to the proceedings. The Plastics—McAdams, Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert in the movie—are enacted by Ashley Park, whose Gretchen literally bleeds funny neediness; Taylor Louderman, who embodies the towering blonde goddess Regina spectacularly and star-makingly; and Kate Rockwell, who as Karen does an incredibly difficult balancing act: playing an incredibly stupid character with so many smarts that she’s sidesplittingly hilarious as she steals scenes left and right.

Too bad that Kerry Butler, a wonderful comedienne and golden-voiced singer, has little to do in her three roles (teacher Ms. Norbury, Cady and Regina’s moms): but her natural charisma considerably brightens her infrequent onstage moments anyway. Broadway’s Mean Girls should please both die-hard fans and those looking for a rollicking good time.

Mean Girls
Book by Tina Fey; music by Jeff Richmond; lyrics by Nell Benjamin
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Opened April 8, 2018
August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street, New York, NY

photo credit: Joan Marcus