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MEAN GIRLS musical at Fox theater review

Every high school has its version of “mean girls,” a clique of pretty girls who revel in social bullying, which was the subject of Tina Fey’s 2004 movie “Mean Girls.” Now, “Mean Girls,” the Broadway musical version of that coming-of-age comedy, struts into the Fox to make the rules about who is cool and who’s not, for a run through Feb. 27.

Tina Fey also wrote the book for the musical based on her movie, which actually had been adapted loosely from a non-fiction book on high school cliques and social structure. But the musical “Mean Girls,” like the movie, leans comic rather than academic, while hitting home with some truths about the high school and coming-of-age experience. “Mean Girls” is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin.

Cady (Danielle Wade) is the new girl at her high school in suburban Chicago, having just moved there with her parents (April Josephine and Will Branner) after growing up in rural Africa where she was home schooled. A smart, optimistic girl, Cady now is experiencing a little culture shock. She doesn’t dress like the other kids, favoring hike gear and outdoorsy stuff, and has had totally different childhood experiences. She’s feeling out of place and is not sure how to fit in.

Luckily for her, she is quickly befriended by a pair of outsider pals, Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damian (Eric Huffman). Janis, an independent girl with an artistic bent and Damian, a bubbly gay guy, take her under their wing and clue her in about the various cliques at the school. They describe the Jocks, the Art Kids, and the Math Kids (who are considered social poison), but they especially warn her about the Plastics, the mean girls everyone at school fears.

The mean girls known as the Plastics are all about being beautiful, having the right clothes, conforming in everything they do, and being exclusionary – and mean – to everyone else. Queen bee Regina (Nadina Hassan) leads the pack, while nervous, subservient Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley) backs her up and keeps track of all the clique’s many rules. Beautiful Karen (Jonalyn Saxer) is the classic “dumb blonde,” passively following along. Others at school give them a wide berth, as they take their regular table at lunch.

Pretty Cady catches the eye of Regina who invites her to join them at their table at lunch. Regina likes the idea of making over the new girl, so she invites her to have lunch with them all week. Cady is hesitant but Janis encourages her to join the Plastics but as a kind of spy, only pretending to be their friend.

The Plastics have a lot of rules, like wearing pink on Wednesdays and ex-boyfriends being off-limits to the other girls. Unfortunately, it turns out that Aaron (Adante Carter), the smart, handsome boy in Cady’s AP Calculus class that she has a crush on, is Regina’s ex. Another complication that Cady learns about is that Regina and Janis once were friends but had a falling out. So things get complicated quickly as Cady tries to figure out her place in the high school hierarchy and, ultimately, who she is.

Extra comic beats are added by Lawrence E. Street as sarcastic teacher Mr. Duvall and Kabir Bery as exuberantly nerdy Kevin, head of the Mathletes club. Kevin and others are featured in one of the best show-stopping numbers, and catchiest songs, “Whose House Is This?” a rollicking production number as the kids party at a house where the parents are out-of-town. A number of the production numbers are high-octane – and one would win for “best use of lunch trays” if there were such an award – and the musical numbers blend in pretty well in this high school confidential comedy plot, which, of course, has its serious side about the issues of growing up. The lyrics are often funny, ironic, yet true to high school angst.

Eric Huffman (Damian Hubbard) and the National Touring Company of Mean Girls.
Photo credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

One of the surprising standouts of the show are the “sets” which really aren’t sets but highly-realistic digital projections on screens at the back of the stage. These are supplemented with real props – desks, lockers, rows of bathroom stalls, etc. – but the projections are so convincing that the effect is often seamless. A particularly eye-popping “set” is the two-story mall one, where actors walking around on both levels making it hard to believe those shops aren’t there.

Danielle Wade is charming as Cady, who goes from a childish innocence, to feeling a growing power, to finding her true self. Mary Kate Morrissey is striking and touching as Janis, a character who is going through a lot but who you feel somehow has the most promising future. But Nadina Hassan, as Regina, is the one with the big stage presence, nearly stealing the show, whether belting out numbers like “World Burn” or in bold physical comedy routines in the second half of the show.

Tina Fey’s musical adaption of her hit movie should appeal to its fans but offers fun for any “girls” who survived those high school cliques. “Mean Girls” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox through Feb. 27.

© Cate Marquis

(L-R): Danielle Wade (Cady Heron), Megan Masako Haley (Gretchen Wieners),
Nadina Hassan (Regina George), Jonalyn Saxer (Karen Smith), Mary Kate Morrissey (Janis
Sarkisian), and the National Touring Company of Mean Girls
Photo credit: © 2021 Jenny Anderson