Mean Girls, the 2004 smash teen romcom written by Upper Darby’s Tina Fey and starring pre-demise Lyndsey Lohan, is a cautionary tale of a teen’s need for validation in order to compete in the perpetual popularity contest that is high school. It’s the story of Cady Heron, who just transferred to North Shore High after growing up in Kenya. Because she was homeschooled for the first 16 years of her life, Cady lacks the social skills it takes to fit in at her new school. Mercifully, two high school outcasts, Janice and Damien, befriend her. Janice and Damien’s sworn enemies are a clique of cruel but glamorous girls — Regina George, Karen Smith, and Gretchen Wieners — they call “The Plastics.”
When Regina makes an insincere overture of friendship to Cady, Janice and Damien sense an opportunity to divide and conquer from within and insists that Cady join their clique. Cady agrees to Janice and Damien’s sabotage plan, but seduced by the social perks and privileges of being in The Plastics she switches allegiance to the titular mean girls. She pretends to be dumb––despite being quite the mathmatician — to impress Aaron Samules, Regina George’s off-limits ex-boyfriend. Predictably, Regina decides she wants back when she finds out Cady has a crush on him.
Regina and Cady go back and forth from one tortuous plot to the next trying to deceive one another. Cady tries to make Regina fat, Regina makes out with Aaron Samuels in front of Cady––you get the idea. Infuriated by Cady’s rise to high school fame, Regina shares her “Burn Book” with the school principal. The book includes insulting lines about nearly every female at North Shore High, including the allegation that Cady’s favorite math teacher, Ms. Norbury, is a “drug pusher,” provoking a full-on catfight.
An assembly is called, and Ms. Norbury demands that all of these women must unify and apologize to one another. It doesn’t go well, and Regina storms out of the school, followed by Cady who tries to apologize. Distracted by the torrent of insults she is hurling at Cady, Regina is hit by a bus. Feeling guilty, Cady takes full responsibility for the burn book and is suspended and banned from North Shore’s momentous Spring Fling. Upon Cady’s return to school, Ms. Norbury decides her personal punishment for Cady will be forcing her to join the mathletes for finals, and she wins it for the team––because everybody loves a happy ending. It’s probably no coincidence that Spring Fling falls on the same night as the mathletes’ finals. Grateful to Cady for the win, Ms. Norbury pulls some strings and gets Cady into the dance where she is crowned Spring Fling Queen. Her acceptance speech is wise and mature beyond her years. To show the worth of each and every self-conscious/self-loathing girl in the room, Cady breaks her crown into pieces and dispenses a piece to each girl while explaining why their lives matter.
Fast forward 15 years, and Mean Girls is now a stage musical that had its premiere last night at the Academy Of Music. Everything is pretty much the same as the movie, except there’s this thing called social media that is making everyone’s lives worse– spreading rumors, sowing chaos, and creating unrealistic expectations of perfect, airbrushed lives. Nevertheless, everyone breaks into song and dance at every chance imaginable. The choreography and set changes are seamless, but chopped into song and dance numbers the plot is hard to follow, even for someone like me who has seen the film more times than I care to admit.
As with the movie, the supporting cast steals the show. Damien (Eric Huffman, the “too gay to function” best friend of Janice, is hysterical. Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer), one of The Plastics, is equally as hysterical with her stupidity and bluntness. And Ms. Norbury – played by Tina Fey in the movie and Gaelen Gilliland in the musical – has some of the best quips, as does North Shore High School’s Principal Duvall.
My only other complaint is the musical’s messaging seems tad heavy-handed compared to the light, but no less pointed, touch of the film. By the end of the film, it feels like you’ve just watched Tina Fey poking fun at the awfulness that is teenhood with just the right ratio of snark and tar-black humor. The Broadway version feels like a highly professional high school musical that’s trying a little too hard to teach you a lesson. Still, the nostalgia factor was a blast, and Tuesday night the Academy of Music was packed with females who were teens and tweens of 2004 reliving the cringe-worthy but life-defining melodramatics of high school rendered in song.
MEAN GIRLS THE MUSICAL NOW PLAYING @ ACADEMY OF MUSIC THRU DEC. 1