The Plastics are back! Regina, Gretchen, and Karen, that is. This trio of mean gals arrives at the Pantages in their Covid-delayed tour stop to wreak havoc on Los Angeles.
Based on the hit movie written by Tina Fey, “Mean Girls,” the musical is a colorful, swiftly paced confection about a down-to-earth (white) gal named Cady (English Bernhardt) who leaves her home in Kenya for the shores of America. But communing with the wild animals of Africa is no match for the high-school social scene, and Cady quickly realizes she has to navigate something more dangerous than the open plain. Most notably, the three most popular (and meanest) girls in school.
They are Regina George (Nadina Hassan), the queen of the threesome. Arrogant, selfish, and just plain cruel, Regina is the one you don’t make eye contact with, or your school social status could be destroyed.
There’s Gretchen Wieners (Jasmine Rogers), the “follower” of the group who is always willing to do Regina’s bidding, even though she wants to be seen as something more than her patsy.
And then there’s Karen (Morgan Ashley Bryant), the dim bulb of the trio. And that’s it. She’s just not so bright. (Or is she?)
But Cady first meets Damian (Eric Huffman) and Janis (Lindsay Heather Pearce) – outcasts of the school (he’s gay, and she’s aggressively artsy and rebellious), who Cady takes a liking too. They are the most honest and straight-forward, happy to be who they are, and willing to navigate Cady through the wilds of Northshore High. But when Regina takes an interest in Cady, things change and eventually get out of control.
For the most part, “Mean Girls” mirrors the film’s plot, but thankfully can make it its own. It does fall into the trap of being so familiar that the show can sometimes drag as you wait for specific events that you are all-too familiar with. Whereas “Pretty Woman” is a carbon copy of the movie with songs thrown in, “Mean Girls” can avoid this problem by shifting character focus and trying to ground the farcical story with deeper meaning.
The cast is good, and all dive into their characters with delightful energy. While not all cast members were strong singers, Lindsay Heather Pearce, Eric Huffman, and Morgan Ashley Bryant are the standouts. (Bryant literally steals the show with incredible comic timing and a voice that makes me wonder if she should have played Whitney Houston in the new biopic.)
What impressed me the most was the use of projection screens for a set. While I’m not a fan of this new normal, Scott Pask’s placement of the screens and the vivid way the screens change the scene were brilliant.
The songs by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin were cleverer than anticipated but still fall into the trap of not being particularly memorable once you leave the theater. As they happen, they are enjoyable, but that’s about the extent.
The book by Tina Fey does an excellent job of rearranging things, but I was a little surprised that some of the “fat-shaming” aspects were still front and center. While I understand that “weight gain” would be triggering for a particular type of person, in this generation of all-accepting teens and young adults, the plot machination felt stale. It might have been a plot point in the film, but it could have easily been changed for the stage show.
All in all, “Mean Girls” is a fluffy show that goes down easy and will satisfy fans of the film. Will it go down in history as one of Broadway’s “greats?” No. (“Heathers” still beats “Mean Girls” in both film and musical form.) But is it a fun night out? Well, it’s pretty “fetch.”