×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Clueless’ the Musical

The stage version of this ‘90s teen flick remains a light delight. But a great musical? As if.

With:
Dove Cameron, David Thomas Brown, Chris Hoch, Will Connolly, Ephie Aardema, Justin Mortelliti, Megan Sikora, Sara Andreas, Gilbert L. Bailey II, Tiffany Engen, Katie Goffman, Danielle Marie Gonzales, Tessa Grady, Talya Groves, L’ogan J’ones, Jeff Kuhr, Darius Jordan Lee, Brett Thiele, Zurin Villaneuva.

2 hours 15 minutes

How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, make this further take on Jane Austen’s upscale do-gooder “Emma” a delight once again.

This playful, upbeat show should be an easy sell both Off Broadway, where it premiered in a production from The New Group, and in the provinces, thanks to the film’s legion of fans. But its lightweight narrative keeps it at the enjoyable-fluff level, even if its two-hour-plus length wears out its welcome just a tad, and the once-freshness of its comedy of ‘90s modes and manners is lessened by what have since become stereotypes.

Whatever. The look, tone and ’tude of the show, directed with the clip of the flick by Kristin Hanggi (“Rock of Ages”), is spot-on. Its fantasy life of ultra-rich teens — where all school cliques live in peace and harmony — is here further enlivened with songs of the era, cleverly recrafted lyrically for the show by Heckerling, who also wrote the musical’s book. Props to the savvy selection of tunes — including songs from the Spin Doctors, Dee-Lite, En Vogue and N’ Sync  — and to the music’s integration into the characters’ lives and stories by music director Matthew Smedal and music supervisor-arranger-orchestrator Ethan Popp.

The let’s-dance choreography of Kelly Devine (“Come From Away”) also keeps its teen-energy moves a constant pleasure. Beowulf Boritt’s design essentials are rad and Amy Clark’s costumes recall the too-cool-to-care designs of the period and its stylish plaids and pleats. The house band rocks, too.

Heckerling doesn’t so much re-imagine as recreate her original screenplay, about an ever-optimistic teen whose best-intention efforts to change the lives of others instead transform her own. The cast strikes the same happy balance of satire and sincerity as the film’s.

But ultimately the success of both the movie and this adaptation hinges on the appeal of their Chers. Like the movie’s breakout performance by Alicia Silverstone, the Cher of Dove Cameron (Disney’s “Liv and Maddie”) also wins you over with her true belief in the power of positive shopping and her magical thinking that it can do good. (Think Glinda from “Wicked,” transported to Beverly Hills High.) Cameron plays Cher’s sunny spirit for real, but with just enough flickers of doubt in the second act to keep her character kind of interesting.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, especially Dave Thomas Brown as Josh — played in the film by Paul Rudd — and echoing that irresistible sweet-smart awkwardness that eventually makes Cher see the value of life beyond a Barney’s sale. Plus, he sings like a dream.

Will Connolly is suitably lovable as stoner Travis — and has a sweet hummable musical turn, too with Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.”  Justin Mortelliti is hipster-cool as Christian; Ephie Aardema makes a credible transformation as new girl Tai; and Zurin Villaneuva as Cher’s pal Dionne is a bestie anyone would want (though not behind the wheel). It’s also fun to watch Gilbert L. Bailey II trying for street-cred as Di’s boyfriend Murray. Meanwhile, Chris Hoch plays all the adult males roles — dad, teacher and a frantic driving instructor — with skillful variations of hilarity.

There are a few new touches in the second act that try to give Cher and the show a bit more substance, but not enough to weigh down its feathery spirit. It’s still about a fab girl who just wants to make the world as perfect as her beautiful life.

Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre); 183 seats; $105 top. Opened Dec. 11, 2018; reviewed Dec. 8. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MINS.

Production: The New Group presents a musical in two acts by Amy Heckerling, based on her screenplay.

Creative: Directed by Kristin Hanggi; choreographed by Kelly Devine; sets, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, Amy Clark;  lighting, Jason Lyons; sound, Gareth Owen; projections, Darrel Maloney; music direction; music supervision, arrangement and orchestration, Ethan Popp; production stage manager, Mary MacLeod.

Cast: Dove Cameron, David Thomas Brown, Chris Hoch, Will Connolly, Ephie Aardema, Justin Mortelliti, Megan Sikora, Sara Andreas, Gilbert L. Bailey II, Tiffany Engen, Katie Goffman, Danielle Marie Gonzales, Tessa Grady, Talya Groves, L’ogan J’ones, Jeff Kuhr, Darius Jordan Lee, Brett Thiele, Zurin Villaneuva.

More Legit

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

  • Frozen review Broadway

    ‘Frozen’ the Musical Opening in London in 2020

    “Frozen” the musical is coming to London and will open in the West End in fall 2020. The Michael Grandage-directed Disney Theatrical Productions stage show has been on Broadway for a year. Grandage’s production is now set to re-open Andrew Lloyd Webber’s refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are behind the [...]

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content