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D.C. Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Mean Girls’

The Broadway version of the 2004 film is certain to be a crowd-pleaser, with almost every aspect of the production completely satisfying.

The Plastics are back – with a vengeance. It’s been 13 years since the release of the Tina Fey-scripted film “Mean Girls,” the cult classic that introduced “pink Wednesdays” and “fetch” to the teenage lexicon. Fey and company have reprised the snarky mayhem of North Shore High School with a delightful and energetic tuner packed with strong performances, engaging numbers and eye-popping visuals.

In its D.C. tryout prior to a scheduled April 8 opening at Broadway’s August Wilson Theater, the wacky assemblage of cool and nerdy kids now live on their cell phones, naturally. But little else has changed from the 2004 pic that featured Lindsay Lohan as the impressionable new student Cady Heron, fresh off the African plains.

It could become a breakout role for Erika Henningsen, who heads an extremely likeable cast of relative unknowns that is uniformly polished in acting and vocal assignments. Henningsen’s demanding part showcases the full range of teenage emotions along with athleticism and, of course, vocal chops. She nails them all.

Ditto the cast’s other principals, especially the trio of “Plastics” led by Taylor Louderman as the group’s self-absorbed queen, who enters singing a sultry, “I’m Regina George, and I’m a massive deal.” Ashley Park plays the woefully insecure Gretchen Wieners and Kate Rockwell is the adorable dimwit Karen Smith. All four are blessed with beautiful, although similar, soprano voices.

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The show’s two defiant misfits are equally well cast. Barrett Wilbert Weed reigns as the rough-and-ready Janis while Grey Henson is nicely over the top as Damian, the character billed as “almost too gay to function.” But Henson’s role is more than mere parody, especially when he lingers over the compelling early number, “Where Do You Belong?” Kyle Selig is just right as the compassionate and grounded hunk, Aaron.

Kerry Butler offers delightful turns as the teacher, Mrs. Norbury, precisely mimicking Fey’s role in the film, along with a hysterical portrayal of Regina’s developmentally arrested mother (Amy Poehler in the film). The latter includes a delicious parody of “Saturday Night Live’s” iconic skit, “The Californians.”

The bit was clearly a nod to Lorne Michaels, who is the show’s lead producer just as he was with the 2004 film. Other members of the creative team include composer and Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond (“30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon,” “Spamalot”) and lyricist Nell Benjamin (“Legally Blonde,” “The Explorers Club”).

The show is visually spectacular. Set designer Scott Pask and colleagues have fully exploited the opportunities of LED video technology with LED walls that burst with color and motion at every opportunity (kudos to video designers Finn Ross and Adam Young). Sitting in the audience is at times like being in the middle of a cartoon, as kid-friendly scenic designs flow constantly – Africa, high school locales inside and out, private homes and bedrooms, a shopping mall, a Christmas pageant, and even a fast-moving bus.

The approach is announced immediately in a clever opening scene that introduces Cady’s exciting life in Africa and its perpetual dances between predators and prey. The scene, which includes performers dressed as tigers, quickly gives way to another dangerous dance – with the denizens of a suburban high school.

Fey’s book flows nicely from high points to low while seldom missing opportunities for impertinence. Example: “Hmmm, America. Maybe I can meet an obese person,” chirps Cady when told of her move from Africa. Other deviations from the film include replacement of a prominent projector room sex scene with an even funnier contrivance. It ends, of course, with its
timeless morality message.

Richmond and Benjamin partner with a rock infused score that showcases the cast’s individual talents and moods, much of it probing the sober side of adolescent pressures. Highlights include the heartfelt “Stupid With Love,” the ensemble’s “Apex Predator,” and Gretchen’s plaintive “What’s Wrong With Me?”

Nicholaw’s choreography emphasizes vigorous ensemble numbers at every opportunity. Among numerous highlights is a dance with bright red high school cafeteria trays early in act one, and a crowd pleasing screed against Regina at the shopping mall. While the ensemble dances may exhaust some of their freshness in act two, after the cast has ransacked Cady’s house, “Mean Girls” is most certainly a crowd pleaser.

D.C. Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Mean Girls’
National Theater, D.C.; 1,169 seats; $108 top. Opened Nov. 19. Reviewed November 18. Running time: 2 HOURS 30 MIN.

Production
A Lorne Michaels, Stuart Thompson, Sonia Friedman, Paramount Pictures, Marisa Sechrest, Ars Nova Entertainment, Berlind Prods., Steve Burke, Scott M. Delman, Roy Furman, Robert Greenblatt, Ruth Hendel, Jam Theatricals, the John Gore Organization, the Lowry Salpeter Co., James L. Nederlander, Christine Schwarzman and Universal Theatrical Group presentation of a musical in two acts with music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin and book by Tina Fey, based on the Paramount Pictures film, “Mean Girls.”

Creative
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Musical direction, Mary-Mitchell Campbell. Set, Scott Pask; costumes, Gregg Barnes; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, Brian Ronan; video design, Finn Ross and Adam Young; hair, Josh Marquette; makeup, Milagros Medina-Cerdeira; orchestrations, John Clancy; dance music arrangements, Glen Kelly; music coordinator, Howard Joines.

Cast
Erika Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Grey Henson, Cheech Manohar, Kyle Selig, Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell, Kerry Butler, Rick Younger.

 

D.C. Pre-Broadway Review: 'Mean Girls'

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