Mean Girls on Broadway

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

What can I say about Tina Fey?

She gained national prominence on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and then ‘30 Rock’ and branched out to movies, books, producing and now co-creator of ‘Mean Girls’- the new musical on Broadway based on her film.

The ‘Mean Girls’ movie from 2004 is a distant memory but, as directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon, Aladdin & Something Rotten) it comes to sharp life again in this still timely and relevant new musical.

To be clear, Tina Fey isn’t actually in ‘Mean Girls’ but, through her script, she’s all over it- particularly the character of teacher Ms. Norbury, played so well by the always excellent Kerry Butler- who is even made to look like Fey, who played Norbury in the movie.

 l to r: Kerry Butler, Erika Henningsen

Butler actually plays 3 roles- but she’s so great the transitions are startlingly effortless. And she’s just a supporting player! The whole cast is terrific. The two female leads, Erika Henningsen as Cady and Taylor Louderman as Regina are both strong, particularly Louderman- who reminded me of Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods from ‘Legally Blonde’- only incredibly nasty instead of cheerful.

About the only problem with this story of high school teenager angst and trying to find your place and fit in- is ‘Mean Girls’ arrives on Broadway after ‘Dear Evan Hansen’- which is as close to a perfect musical about that subject (and more) as you can get.

The story here is Cady, who has been home schooled while growing up in Kenya, arrives in Illinois as “the new kid.” Two best-friend-misfits give her the high school’s “lay of the land”- while also letting us in the audience get it, too.

 foreground: Barrett Wilbert Weed

The male friend is played by Grey Henson- a fun but stereotyped comic relief character named Damien. His best friend is the dryly funny Janis, played by Barrett Wilbert Weed, who delivers one of the most stirring songs near the end of the play in ‘I’d Rather Be Me.’ She also describes Damien to Cady as ‘so gay he can barely function’- and he doesn’t disagree.

Damien and Janis help Cady navigate the cliques and clubs- like telling her to avoid the “mathletes” because hanging out with them is “social suicide.”

 center: “The Plastics”

And Regina, the queen bee, branded a “life ruiner”- with her minions, Gretchen and Karen, known as the “Plastics.” Kerry Butler shines again as Regina’s enabler mom, while also raising the comedy quotient significantly, too.

As Cady copes with Regina stealing her new boyfriend, she herself becomes a vengeful mean girl and, when her plan works- but gets revealed- Cady becomes socially outcast. Then, of course, we see her work to change herself back to who she really is- and redeem herself to everyone.

 At “The Mall”; all show photos by Joan Marcus

Talented set designer Scott Pask, with Finn Ross and Adam Young make smart use of effective, evocative- and boldly colorful- visual projections to serve as most of the sets.

While I’m not the target audience for ‘Mean Girls’- in fact, I was surprised the audience was even 35-40% male when I saw it- I appreciate all the ways ‘Mean Girls’ succeeds: it’s funny, touching and emotionally resonant.

The first act drags a bit in the middle but it comes together nicely in Act 2. Even though a climactic speech by Cady at the end gets preachy, Tina Fey wisely peppers in a couple jokes for Rick Younger- who is great as the school principal- so it works. And watch for the dance scenes with cafeteria trays- wow!

Successfully transferring from film to musical theater is no mean feat and ‘Mean Girls’ does it, overall, exceptionally well- with some powerful songs by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin- and I give it 4 stars out of 5. ‘Mean Girls’ will be a Best Musical nominee.

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This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”