In 2004, the brilliant comedic mind of Tina Fey gave the world Mean Girls, a wry depiction of high school for the in-crowd and those on the outside. The instant classic has made its way to Broadway with the outstanding creative team—book writer Tina Fey, composer Jeff Richmond, lyricist Nell Benjamin and director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw—at the helm.
Starring Erica Henningsen as Cady Heron, a homeschooled student transplanted from Africa, and Taylor Louderman as Regina George, the undisputed Queen Bee of suburban Illinois’ North Shore High, the musical comedy hits all the right notes. Henningsen steps into the role made famous by Lindsay Lohan with ease and a similar wide-eyed quality as Cady deals with the unfamiliar insecurity that comes with navigating high school politics.
Louderman is known for originating the role of Campbell in Bring It On: The Musical, portraying Wendy in NBC’s Peter Pan Live! and most recently playing Lauren in Kinky Boots. A far cry from a quirky factory worker, Regina is ruthless as she works to maintain her status as the top of the food chain. Louderman’s stage presence and piercing voice during “World Burn” solidify her place as the “Apex Predator.”
Cady grapples with her new habitat by viewing high school students as the wild animals that they are. Conflict arises when Cady inadvertently develops a crush on Regina’s ex, Aaron, played by Kyle Selig, a no-no in the animal kingdom.
Gretchen Wieners (Ashley Park) and Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell) round out the titular group of mean girls, known as The Plastics. Park, who played Tuptim in the 2015 revival of The King and I, neurotically always second guesses herself as Gretchen, whose worst fear is to be replaced as Regina’s sidekick. Her excellent comedic timing is almost enough to make “fetch” happen.
Karen, who appears to have more beauty than brains, is refreshingly sincere, and not necessarily as dumb as she seems.
On the other end of the popularity spectrum are Janis Sarkisian (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and Damian Hubbard (Grey Henson), who choose not to be part of any clique. The duo narrate the show as well as participate in it, first, by taking Cady under their wing and sharing their high school wisdom.
Weed is no stranger to musicals about the social hierarchy of teenagers; she played Veronica Sawyer in the Off-Broadway adaptation of Heathers. As Janis, she is rebellious, artsy and vulnerable.
Act II tune “I’d Rather Be Me,” sung by the sardonic Janis, has all the trappings of positive anthems like Dear Evan Hansen’s “You Will Be Found” and The Greatest Showman’s “This Is Me,” with an unsentimental and pointedly feminist twist.
“Too gay to function” Damien’s rotating T-shirt wardrobe features his idols—Liza Minelli, Judy Garland and several drag queens. The Book of Mormon alum is always on the verge of a big song and dance number and gets to show off his tap-dancing skills during “Stop,” in which he hilariously preaches smartphone self-control to Cady. He also leads some Newsies-meets-Stomp lunch tray action in the first act.
Kerry Butler, a Tina Fey lookalike in the role of Ms. Norbury, transforms to play several distinctive characters. Rick Younger as the principal with no demonstrable control over his students, Mr. Duvall, gets some zingers in.
The digital set serves the story well, allowing fast transitions between scenes and imaginative backgrounds. It is used to tell the social media angle of the tale, which has evolved greatly in the past 14 years and the show reflects that.
Mean Girls has something to say about what it means to be a friend and how to treat others. It’s also a fun romp with biting humor and perfect casting. Fans of the film will be pleased the musical adaptation encapsulates what they love about the film, with the added layer of song and dance.
Mean Girls is nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction, Best Choreography and nods for Taylor Louderman, Grey Henson, Ashley Park and Tina Fey. Catch the Tonys on Sunday, June 10, at 8 p.m. on CBS.
The Mean Girls Original Broadway Cast recording will be released digitally on May 18 and in stores on June 15.
See Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd St. For tickets, visit meangirlsonbroadway.com.