In Defense of Mean Girls the Musical
By Emma McCormick
Soundtrack recommendations: “Meet the Plastics,” “Apex Predator,” “Sexy”, “World Burn.”
When I unwrapped the birthday gift with two tickets to Mean Girls the musical, I turned up my nose and cast my best Regina George stare and scoffed, “Omigosh mooom, The New York Times said it was mediocre.”
Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it happened; seeing a Broadway musical (no matter how mediocre) is always a huge treat, but I was worried my mom’s money had been unwisely spent. Mean Girls received a resounding “F you” from reviewers across the board, from Variety to the New York Times to Cosmopolitan. But I am here to stand up for this fantastically cast and incredibly pink musical because throughout the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes of this show, I felt so freaking FETCH.
Right out of the gate I will concede that the music was, indeed, very monotonous, with each song sounding like same four notes rearranged in slightly different progressions. However, it simply didn’t matter. The star power of each character was enough to generate electricity for the entirety of New York City.
The Plastics were bombshells. Their struts emulated those of Victoria Secret models and they each boasted stellar voices to boot. But what was most impressive was the way they outdid the original characters. Ashley Park revamped Gretchen Wieners with a level of hysterical anxiousness that emulated a skittish mouse. Her intense FOMO and ridiculous need for validation is a feeling almost anyone who went through high school can relate to - just maybe not to this level of insanity. Then there was Kate Rockwell as Karen Smith. Her plastered “dumb blonde” smile made me wonder if her jaw gets stuck at night. The writers also added some welcome new dimensions to this character, using her empty headed simplicity to bring light to some heavy feminist issues. In the number “Stop,” she simply states “Someone should just teach boys not to do that in the first place,” in response to her nudes being on a “porn site called ‘Amateur Tweens.’” Additions like these bring the #MeToo movement to the 2004 plotline.
The theatrics of Taylor Louderman as Regina George and the peppy trot of Erika Henningsen as Cady Herring were enough to carry the entire performance. In the film Mean Girls, you can see the obsession with and fear of Regina George permeating through the rest characters. However, as a viewer you probably don’t feel intimidated by her character. In the stage version of this story, I cowered in fear of Regina. Her “I never weigh more than 115 [pounds]” limbs and “like, drunk with power” attitude were actually scarring - in the best way. She is so mean, you have to wonder Is she really like this in real life? On the opposite end of the spectrum is Erika Henningsen who’s all-American strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes seem to exude a ray of sunshine. Her booming and beautiful voice is like a bird’s song - if a bird’s voice could carry across continents.
These women, and of course Damien played by Greg Henson, flounced around the stage with cheesy - but entertaining - broadway dance moves, usually accompanied by the entire ensemble. Though based on a movie with a mostly white cast, the musical's casting choices were impressively inclusive, including transgender actors as well as many non-white actors. I was also pleasantly surprised that Gretchen was played by an Asian American, especially considering the fact that she identifies as a Jewish American Princess (which is generally associated with white females). These decisions represented what high school actually looks like in America in 2018.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to avoid the fact that standing alone, this soundtrack is less than spectacular. We live in an age where so many pieces of theatre include the next big show tune hit, or celebrity level actors like Daniel Radcliffe, or innovative set design like the Curious Incident of a Dog at Nighttime. Don’t get me wrong, these forms of professionalism are great. But may I ask, have we all forgotten about fun?
If nothing else, this musical is bound to offer you (maybe) the most fun 2 hours and thirty minutes of your life. My mother, who had never seen the Mean Girls movie before and didn’t even get all the original 2004 references, was in love with this show. And trust me, she is a tough one to please! We even decided to watch the movie after seeing the performance to revisit how closely they followed the plot, and much to my surprise I was unsatisfied. My mother felt the movie was “meh.” So if the musical is perceived as better than this classic movie, how could reviewers trash it?
I guess… “I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy…” and also love this musical as much as I did.
That is all.