By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
In 2002. Rosalind Wiseman published Queen Bees and Wannabes, a self-help book with the snappy sub-headline, Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence.
So only two years later doesn’t Saturday Night Live performer/writer Tina Fey take that book and, mashing it up with her own high school experiences, turn it into the movie Mean Girls. (There was also a 2011 TV sequel called Mean Girls 2.)
The film became something of a pop sensation, inspiring a “Mean Girls Day” (October 3 and you are expected to wear pink), countless GIFs and memes and even introducing a few sayings into the lexicon including “Why are you so obsessed with me?” with President Obama played along as well when he tweeted “Stop trying to make fetch happen!” in reference to loveable little Bo. (Remember when presidential tweets were fun?)
Mean Girls continues through November 3. Benedum Center, Downtown. 412/456-6666. www.trustarts.org
So it shouldn’t be surprising then that Fey would turn the movie into a musical and with composer (and husband) Jeff Richmond and lyricist Nell Benjamin that, in 2018, they’d open the thing on Broadway where’s it’s still running. And it’s thanks to the Broadway in Pittsburgh Series hosting the first national tour that we get a chance to take a look-see at Fey’s work.
As with pretty much anything she lays her hand to, Fey’s goal is to score as many laughs as possible and toss in a little “Grrrrl Power” along the way. She certainly achieves that with this story of recently relocated high schooler Cady Heron looking forward to making friends at her new Chicago school … until she runs into “The Plastics;” three young women at the top of the school social food chain, led by the imperious Regina George. Pretty soon battle lines are drawn, knives are out and “take no prisoners” is the order of the day.
Sort of. Both in the movie and the musical the girls are never mean enough. (Especially when you compared the work – and it’s unfair but unescapable – to the other teen female angst film Heathers.) There’s never a question here that you’re inside a musical comedy and an ending of happy self-actualization is just around the corner. You’d search in vain for a moment of genuine humanity on stage only to come up empty-handed … but then who would be going to see the show and want it any other way?
With direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw Means Girls is a high-HIGH energy pink bubble gum Roman sparkler of a show. All that over-the-top enthusiasm (and a far-too-heavy reliance on CGI projections) can be a little wearisome by the show’s end, but up until then … well, there’s something to be said for razzle-dazzle.
Danielle Wade gets the difficult task of fleshing out the role of Cady; she’s the center of the event but curiously written as a cipher. By the second act, Wade’s managed to find a way in and brings great force to the stage. Mary Kate Morrissey provides welcome grit as the outcast Janis and Samuel Gerber gets, and executes, all the laugh lines as the sassy gay best friend Damian.
Mariah Rose Faith makes for an incredibly arch and trenchant Regina while Megan Masako Haley and Jonalyn Saxer, as her posse, hit the precise emotional and humor beats required. Gaelen Gilliland and Lawrence E. Street also get the opportunity to add their own laughs in supporting comic roles.
Even by musical theater standards, I found Mean Girls a bit slight and perhaps just a little too manufactured. But, now that I think about it, maybe with a show featuring a group of people called “The Plastics” … that might just be the whole point.