Mean Girls

The Guardian Weekly - - Culture - Alexis Soloski

Mean Girls, the new mu­si­cal from Tina Fey and other col­lab­o­ra­tors, may walk away with a few Tonys and plenty of year­book su­perla­tives, too. It looks good for Most Pop­u­lar and Most School Spirit, Teacher’s Pet and Class Clown. Is it Most Likely to Suc­ceed? Yes. And maybe also no.

Be­cause Mean Girls is fine. Mean Girls is fun. The songs, by Fey’s hus­band Jeff Rich­mond and lyri­cist Nell Ben­jamin, are catchy enough, the book is rea­son­ably witty, the stag­ing, by Casey Ni­cholaw, suf­fi­ciently fluid. The anti-bul­ly­ing mes­sage is straight­for­ward enough (maybe too straight­for­ward). But – no of­fence, OK? – Mean Girls is ba­sic.

Here’s the story. Cady Heron (Erika Hen­ningsen, be­low right) grows up do­ing field work in Kenya with her bi­ol­o­gist par­ents. She likes the life, but she has a vague, in­choate sense that it might also be nice to live some­where with fewer ostriches and more shop­ping malls. Re­lo­cated to Chicago, she strug­gles to find friends un­til she’s adopted by the “art freaks” Ja­nis and Damian (Bar­rett Wil­bert Reed and Grey Hen­son). When Cady catches the at­ten­tion of Regina Ge­orge, (Tay­lor Lou­d­er­man) North Shore High’s HBIC (head bitch in charge), Ja­nis and Damian per­suade her to in­fil­trate Regina’s group, the Plas­tics, putting Cady at risk of be­com­ing pretty plas­tic her­self.

That was enough to make Fey’s 2004 movie a hit and it seems like de­cent source ma­te­rial for a peppy mu­si­cal, es­pe­cially with Ni­cholaw (Book of Mor­mon, Spa­malot) here to zhoosh it up for Broad­way and Fey around to tweak the book and up­date the tech. “Some­times I feel like an iPhone with­out a case,” one char­ac­ter says mourn­fully. “At any time I could just shat­ter.”

Lou­d­er­man, Hen­son, Kerry But­ler (be­low left) in the Fey role, and Kate Rock­well, as a Plas­tic who has the blonde good looks of a Bar­bie doll and about as much in­te­ri­or­ity, give line read­ings to die for. But as the mu­si­cal scam­pers from one bright num­ber to the next (a Hal­loween party with a sexy Yoda and a sexy Abe Lin­coln is a high­light), you are rarely moved to care about them.

This is not the fault of Hen­ningsen, who does ev­ery­thing the script asks of her. Prob­lem is, the script doesn’t ask enough. Is it friend­ship she wants? Is it love or ad­ven­ture or a co­her­ent sense of self or all of the above? Mean Girls is clear about a lot of stuff. Girls should sup­port each other in­stead of try­ing to tear each other down. Girls shouldn’t send nude pics and boys shouldn’t ask for them. Girls should be them­selves. Agreed! But there’s no real sense of who these girls are – they’re rarely more than stereo­type. The boys, too. That doesn’t make the sprightly show a fail­ure or a flop or a swing and a miss, but it’s no hit ei­ther.

Here’s the best/ worst thing you can say about Mean Girls: it’s nice. At Au­gust Wil­son The­atre, New York, un­til March 2019

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