Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Mean Girls is based on the 2004 film of the same name, which was inspired by the Rosalind Wiseman's book "Queen Bees and Wannabes." It follows the story of Cady, who has moved back to the United States with her scientist parents after years in Kenya. Outsiders Janis and Damian quickly befriend Cady and try to help her adjust to life in an American public school. However, they also convince her to infiltrate an elite clique of girls known as the "Plastics." These girlsleader Regina, Gretchen, and Karenrule the school with cruelty. As Cady tries to balance her new friends on both sides of the social spectrum, she loses her moral compass and leaves a wake of emotional disaster behind.
Tina Fey wrote the film screenplay, and likewise provides the book for the musical. Her wry wit and comedic gifts are at the forefront of the storytelling, and Mean Girls is certainly one of the funniest shows in recent memory. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, but also a fair amount of "teachable moments," in this self-described cautionary tale. For fans of the film, some, though not all, of the hilarious scenes are present in this stage adaptation.
In the score by Nell Benjamin (lyrics) and Fey's husband Jeff Richmond (music), some of the songs contain music which is well suited, but somewhat generic. Ms. Benjamin's lyrics are consistently stronger, displaying smile-inducing and hilarious wordplay and depth. The best overall songs are "Revenge Party," which has several extremely catchy hooks and is well integrated with dialogue to propel the plot, and "What's Wrong With Me?," which is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking, and provides melodic variety. Many of the songs quite accurately capture the anger and frustration of being a teenager.
The tour cast is a talented one. The show has six large roles, spreading the prime material amongst them. As Cady, Danielle Wade goes from naïve to manipulative convincingly, and sings with a clear pop voice apt for the role. Mary Kate Morrissey, who was seen at the Aronoff previously as Elphaba in Wicked, embodies Janis with a fiery and droll demeanor and rocking vocals. As Damian, CCM grad Eric Huffman is hysterically sassy and brings flamboyant flair to his showy role. Mariah Rose Faith is fiercely mean and sings with significant power as Regina George. Megan Masako Haley provides Gretchen Wieners with the necessary insecurity, and sings beautifully. As hilariously dumb blonde Karen, Jonalyn Saxer showcases excellent comic timing and dances up a storm while garnering lots of laughs.
Broadway vet Gaelen Gilliland displays great versatility playing several roles, including Ms. Norbury. Adante Carter makes the most of love interest Aaron Samuels, and Kabir Bery is appropriately goofy as Kevin G. The hardworking ensemble deserve kudos for their energetic contributions as well.
Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw perfectly captures the tone of this dark comedy, supplies lightning quick scene transitions, and nails several visual comedy bits. His athletic dances capture the aggressive angst of adolescence, and a fun tap number leads off act two. Nicholaw also incorporates some interesting percussion moments using lunch trays and pencils in different scenes. Rebekah Bruce Parker leads a great sounding thirteen-piece orchestra composed of both touring and local musicians.
The set designs by Scott Pask and videos by Finn Ross and Adam Young are praiseworthy, providing many of the visual treats within Mean Girls. A good amount of the set design is accomplished via video screens which dominate the stage and quite delightfully allow for those quick transitions, lots of fantasy moments, and extremely varied and colorful settings. The costumes by Gregg Barnes are fun and attractive, and lighting by Kenneth Posner is diverse, theatrical, and professionally rendered.
Mean Girls is a welcome addition to Broadway and the cities covered by national tours, holding special appeal for younger theatergoers due to the popularity of the film and the age of the characters. The very humorous story, an effective score, and a praiseworthy cast additionally make this an audience favorite.
Mean Girls runs through November 17, 2019, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit meangirlsonbroadway.com/tour/.