‘Mean Girls’ Broadway Tour Review
Last weekend, I took a trip back home to Milwaukee to catch the Broadway tour of the musical “Mean Girls.” While in Milwaukee for its five-day run (Jan. 25 — Jan. 30), the show played at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Located in the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown, the Marcus Center proved to be an excellent venue for the show. I attended the 8PM performance on Jan. 29, and it was amazing. Having been a fan of the musical since its premiere in 2018, seeing it in person was unreal. The show has something for everyone to enjoy, even if you are unfamiliar with the movie on which it is based.
Let’s begin with the set. The show makes excellent use of technology with its multiple-screen background. Staggered screens on stage create a wall behind which characters exit and enter from. This wall even slides open down the center during some scene transitions, with set pieces like Regina’s bed and the mall escalator coming through the opening. The wall of screens is utilized in every single scene to help create settings; notably, it is used as Regina’s bedroom wall, rows of lockers, the exterior of the school. This impressed me because while simple, the utilization of these screens made scenes feel complete, as opposed to there being a black wall or curtain as the constant backdrop. I’ve seen a couple other Broadway tours that used drop-down backgrounds for each scene, and the screens in “Mean Girls” put those to shame.
All of the set pieces were on wheels. Even the school desks were on wheels, so actors were able to quickly and simultaneously turn their desks in different directions to indicate that the characters had switched classes. This detail made for an excellent bit of blocking, which was especially fun to view from my seat in the balcony! Another set piece that I adored was the escalator. It appears in the song “Apex Predator,” when the Plastics take Cady to the mall. Cady and the Plastics are standing in a line on the escalator as it is rolled onstage. Every time it was used, the stage pictures that ensued were gorgeous. Positioning actors in lines can be a big mistake, but the leveled look of the lines the actors stood in on that escalator were glorious details. Furthermore, the ensemble interacted with the escalator often during the scene in which it was used; they moved it about as different principal characters sang on it.
“Mean Girls” is classified as a rock musical. What this means is that the music does not fit the traditional show tune mold. Rather, the songs are heavily influenced by contemporary styles of popular music. Some of the songs, namely “Where Do You Belong?” and “Stop,” are more akin to classical show tunes. Both of those songs are sung by the character Damien, who identifies as a glee club kid, so the style is used to connect him to his clique. Most of the songs, though, are bouncy pop songs. While the ensemble numbers are fun, the solos in this show are the real showstoppers. All three of the Plastics get solos (Regina gets two), Cady gets three, and Janis gets one.
The solos help create clearer pictures of who each character is and why they make the choices that they do. Gretchen’s solo “What’s Wrong With Me?” gives us an idea of how vulnerable she truly is, this is something that we do not necessarily see in the movie. The musical portrays her as being far more human than her film counterpart. In the musical, there is a slow burn to her breakdown which makes it even more satisfying to watch her lash out at Regina, the source of her woes. On the tour, Gretchen is portrayed by Megan Masako Haley, who does an excellent job teetering in between vulnerability and comedy in her depiction of Gretchen’s insecure demeanor. Haley’s soprano voice is sweet and almost childlike, which further makes Gretchen a character to feel for.
Karen’s solo, “Sexy,” portrays her as more than just Regina’s flunkie, and as more of a fun, free-spirited individual. Even in the musical, she never strays too far from the dumb blonde trope, but she is more of a wild card. Jonalyn Saxer plays Karen on tour and does an excellent job not only of nailing comedic timing, but also with making it clear that Karen is not always content with adhering to Regina’s rules. Throughout the musical, it is obvious that Karen wants to make choices for herself, and this is conveyed expertly by Saxer’s layered interpretation of the character. The only downside to Karen in the musical is that two of her most iconic lines are omitted. Her line: “my boobs have ESPN!” is not included and her “if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” line was also dropped.
Nadina Hassan steals the show as Regina George! Oozing sass and sensuality, Hassan’s portrayal of Queen Been Regina is one for the books. Hassan plays the two-faced character with seemingly little effort, and nails every single beat! Her belting abilities are excellent, which made her an exceptional choice for the role. One interesting thing that Hassan did to make Regina her own was to put on a character voice. The voice that Regina speaks with throughout the show is a sultry variant of a Valley Girl accent, and nothing like Regina from the film. Hassan’s incorporation of a character voice worked wonders for her character, because as I watched her perform, I never once tried to draw parallels between her Regina and Rachel McAdams’ film portrayal. (END OF PART 1)
In the stage show, Janis and Damian serve as pseudo-narrators. They begin the show by speaking and singing directly to the audience, and throughout the show, they continually break the fourth wall. This was a nice touch that helped create more difference between the film and the musical. All of Damian’s iconic lines were included in the script, thank goodness! A couple more things that distinguish the musical from the film are as follows. In the film, Mrs. George tries so hard to be cool that she seems like more of a friend than a mother to Regina, this is not the case in the musical. I enjoyed the depth that the script gave to Mrs. George because I ended up rooting for her to get through to her bratty daughter. Another difference was that the iconic four-way telephone call was not included in the musical. The film features a disturbing subplot surrounding Coach Karr’s sexual relations with underage female students, but this was not included in the musical. The biggest difference between the film and musical was that the musical is set in the present day. Rather than setting the show in 2004 (when the film was released), the script incorporates modern day slang and pop culture references to make it more applicable to today’s teens.
The costuming was excellent! Loud patterns on stage can be a hit or a miss, but “Mean Girls” made it work! Plenty of the ensemble members and even Karen rocked some wacky patterned clothing throughout the show. I loved this choice because it reflected the modern trend of pairing different patterns. All of the shoes and hairstyles were modern, too. I appreciated the abundance of natural hairstyles that the BIPOC actors donned. It made me so happy to see that the world of theatre is evolving to embrace natural curls! On the topic of natural hair and BIPOC actors, it is worth noting that the touring cast of “Mean Girls” is vastly diverse! Gretchen is played by a Japanese-American actor, Regina by an Egyptian-American actor, and Aaron Samuels by a biracial actor. One of the Karen understudies is a Black woman, too! The casting did a great job reflecting the ethnic and racial make-up of a modern day high school.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me in musical theatre is the choreography. “Mean Girls” featured some showstopping choreography! In “Where Do You Belong?”, lunch trays are used to create beats, but they are also used in the choreography. How fun! “Stop” features a tap break, and I am a big sucker for a nice tap break! While the dances remained relatively simple, I was floored by the actores’ keen ability to dance in high heels. Just like in the film, Cady and the Plastics wear high heels often; only this time around, they dance in them. There was also a good deal of break dancing done by the male ensemble. The Christmas talent show dance scene is retained. However, rather than dancing to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas tree,” the girls dance to an original song entitled, “Rockin’ Around the Pole.” The faux-pas in this scene is unlike the skipping boombox in the film; rather, Regina’s skirt opens before the crowd because she has gained too much weight. The designers did an amazing job making Hassan appear heavier through her costuming as Regina began to gradually pack on the pounds.
Of all the Broadway tours that I have seen, this was by far the best. The comedy was snappy and clever just like that of its source material. The cast that I got to see in Milwaukee was amazing, and they all brought fresh nuances to the iconic characters they portrayed. I adored the adaptation of the film to the stage and the incorporation of modern details; this was a very smooth film to stage adaptation. Even though a couple of iconic lines were dumped for the musical, the heart of the story was far from lost. The inclusive casting was another detail that I enjoyed about the show, because it did an excellent job showing what professional theatre companies should strive to look like. I would recommend catching a performance of “Mean Girls” when you can, even if you have not seen the original film. Over spring break, the tour will be in Omaha, NE and Kansas City, MO. “Mean Girls” will make a stop in Madison, WI Aug. 30 — Sep. 4. The story that “Mean Girls” tells is not only one that everyone can relate to, but is one that is essential for all young people to hear.