Review: ‘Mean Girls’ musical is flashy crowd-pleaser at Fox | Theater reviews

“Mean Girls” was a smart teen movie that hit the box office in 2004, so it was almost inevitable that the comedy written by “Saturday Night Live” veteran Tina Fey would inspire a musical. And with Fey writing her book, alongside her composer husband, Jeff Richmond, and lyricist Nell Benjamin, what could go wrong?

Well, it’s complicated.

The show on stage at the Fox Theater is unquestionably an audience delight, with engaging, charismatic performers and state-of-the-art staging. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, who directed the Broadway production, the story has been changed to reflect the role of social media.

Eric Huffman (center) and the national touring company “Mean Girls”

Photo by Joan Marcus

The core narrative remains intact, with high school newcomer Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) struggling to find her place in the social hierarchy. In the process, she makes friends — maverick Janis Sarkisian (Mary Kate Morrissey) and prankster Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) — while earning a frenemy, Regina George (Nadina Hassan), who leads a clique called the plastics. And wouldn’t you know that Cady and Regina are both interested in sexy Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter)?

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As in the film, hilarity – and an extremely convoluted plot – ensues. But while the film is just over 90 minutes long, the musical is around 2.5 hours (including intermission). Some people will say that the show offers good value for money. Others, however, might find it more exhausting than exhilarating.

Like quite a few musicals these days, “Mean Girls” seems designed to accommodate a post-MTV audience, with songs that come across as generic or derivative and footwork that emphasizes flash. The show also appears as a simple addition of musical numbers to the existing story rather than re-imagining the story as a musical.


Left to right: Jonalyn Saxer, Nadina Hassan, Megan Masako Haley and Danielle Wade in the national touring company “Mean Girls”

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Yes, there is a nod to theatricality, with Janis and Damian speaking directly to the audience. But beyond that, the magic of the stage is best represented by the contributions of set designer Scott Pask, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, sound designer Brian Ronan, and video designers Finn Ross and Adam Young.

“Mean Girls” is just another example of a trend in which Broadway has increasingly turned to movies as fodder for musicals – from “Pretty Woman” to “Legally Blonde,” and from “Tootsie” to “Mrs. Doutefeu. It’s not an unreasonable strategy: potential viewers often want to know what they’re getting before they invest their time and money.

The irony is that one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful musicals of the past decade has been “Hamilton,” which was inspired not by a movie but by a book. The danger is that such a project will be crowded out by cinema-inspired productions that are perceived as less risky and potentially more profitable.

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