Thursday, December 05, 2019

MEAN GIRLS, a musical for youth of the 2019s

Just because it basically takes place in a high school, don’t expect “MEAN GIRLS,” now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway series, to have the emotional impact of “DEAR, EVAN HANSEN.”   

Does this mean “MEAN GIRLS” doesn’t make for an entertaining evening of music?  No, it’s a general audience pleaser.  But, since the latest shows in the Broadway series (“DEAR EVAN HANSEN”, “COME FROM AWAY” and “THE BAND’S VISIT”) have been musical dramas, the audience needs to shift its psychological gears and get ready for glitz and gigantic musical numbers, rather than a story-line centered experience.

OMG!  Think back to high school, specifically the cafeteria, at lunch time.  Horror of horrors!  There was the table of Show Choir geeks.  Another of drama kids.  The testosterone-laden jocks held out over there and the cheerleaders were right next to them.  Then there was the queen bee and her small swarm of drones.  The mean girl and her attack team.  They are perfectly coiffed, expensively dressed, spoiled, lacking in empathy, are anorexic, and devour the weak and vulnerable.  

With that in mind, you are now ready to immerse yourself into “MEAN GIRLS,” the stage-show with music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and a book by the queen of television comedy, Tina Fey. 

The musical is based on Fey’s popular 2004 film which was inspired by Rosalind Wieseman’s book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes.” 

Fans of the movie should be relieved that nothing important has been purged from the story.   Those who went through the horrors of slam/shame books, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse and general “hell” at the hands of the mean girls at their high schools will be happy to know that, in this musical, the queen and her swarm get their stingers removed.  (Yeah, revenge for the high school “odd balls!”)

In the musical, Cady, fresh from a life in Kenya, is the new girl in town.  She is taken on a tour of her now educational institution, an Illinois high school, and exposed to the ways of its pecking order, by “good guys,” Janis and Damian.  

The J and D duo have taken the attitude of not being affected by self-selected school royalty and nasty-girl. Queen Bee, Regina George and “the Plastics,” her lackey hangers-on.  They caution Cady to be careful in deciding where she belongs in the school’s social fabric.

And, wonder of wonders, for an unexplained reason, Cady is invited to sit with “the Plastics” on a one-week trial.  (Hmm…what do the terrible trio have in mind?)

Everything goes well for Cady until she meets “dreamy” Aaron in honors math class.  She falls for him.  But, horror of horrors, Aaron has recently broken up with Queen Regina.  (You know this is going to make life for Cady a horror show.)

In order to “keep” Aaron’s interest the super, bright math whiz Cady, plays dumb, turning to him for “extra” help (and some personal time). 

 A school bus accident, a Burn Book which slams students by commenting on their weight (“hips like a Hippo”), parents’ infidelities (“the only reason he made the team is that his mother slept with the coach”) and eating habits (“Vegan freak”), Cady taking over Regina’s place as Queen of the plastics, Cady being elected Spring Fling Queen and her surprising act of sharing the crown, all lead to a happy-ever-after feel-good ending.  (Hey, this is a Tina Fey written high school Broadway musical, what did you expect?)

Though it received 15 Tony nominations, “MEAN GIRLS,” as evidenced by the fact that it won no statues, is not a great musical.   It is, however, enjoyable and it has caught on and has developed its cult following. 

The serviceable score, the Tina Fey sharp-tongued satire and one-liners gave a positive vibe to the goings on.

“Where Do You Belong” stopped the show.

The cast is strong.   Eric Huffman was delightfully endearing as the flamboyant Damian.  He was nicely balanced by Mary Kate Morrisey as Janis, his side-kick and outspoken bud.  Their opening song, “A Cautionary Tale,” set the right mood for what was to come.

Danielle Wade transitioned from curious newcomer to Queen Bee with charm and appeal.  Her reprise of “Fearless” was well sung, as was “Stupid with Love.” “More is Better,” sung with heartthrob Adante Carter (Aaron), had the female teens and tweens pining for more.

Megan Masako Haley and Jonalyn Saxer are character-perfect as “the Plastics,” while Mariah Rose Faith is bitch-correct as Regina George.

The choreography, as designed by director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, is typical Broadway dynamic.

Capsule judgment:  “MEAN GIRLS” is filled with music, characters and Tina Fey-satire that will appeal to audiences.”  Go, see, enjoy, but don’t expect “DEAR EVAN HANSEN” or “COME FROM AWAY” greatness.