‘Mean Girls’ proves storytelling takes more than acting; it takes musical theater magic
By Don’Tia Almon | Art Angle Vantage Reporter
Iroquois High School, Class of 2023
Back to freshman year we go on the opening night of PNC Broadway in Louisville’s “Mean Girls.” Last Tuesday, Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damien (DeShawn Bowens) introduced the audience to North Shore High treating us as incoming freshmen. The energy these two characters gave showed their excitement to welcome new students but also caution them as they explained the school’s and its students’ imperfections.
“Mean Girls,” the musical that premiered on Broadway in 2018, came to Louisville and ran from March 22 to 27 at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Tina Fey wrote the book for the musical with music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin. Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed.
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 by Jenny Anderson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
The musical’s early warning made an interesting introduction that differs from the film adaptation. But I truly didn’t get the hype about this musical until the beat dropped. The production used the power of musical theater to dig deeper than the film into the characters and capture the audience by the throat — thus proving some (namely mine) initial assumptions wrong.
At the story’s outset, Cady (Danielle Wade) is in her comfort zone of Kenya which is backed up by choreography. Dancers dressed as animals paint Cady’s life then, soon transitioning into the scene change not just physically, but situationally. Cady, now in the halls of a Chicago high school, has to deal with the attitudes and hormones of teenagers instead of the familiar feeling of only being around her parents and animals. Her level of comfort shifts as she interacts with types of people she’s never encountered before. It conjures the idea of teenage girls being predators and boys being pieces of meat. This is vividly shown in the choreography as a bunch of teens acting wild in the mall and Cady witnessing it all as an outsider learning her new surroundings.
In so much of “Mean Girls,” lyrics tell the story working with the music instead of the musical relying solely on dialogue. This is proven in many of the songs such as the opening number “A Cautionary Tale,” “Apex Predator,” and specifically the reprise of “What’s Wrong with Me?” In the latter, Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley) is spilling out how she truly feels about her manipulative ex-best friend Regina (Nadina Hassan). But during this reprise, Mrs. George (April Josephine) also has a story. Different from the movie, Mrs. George is the one to inform Regina of Cady’s betrayal. The realization hits the “cool mom” and causes her to practically retreat and think about what’s she’s doing so wrong that she doesn’t know what’s going on within her daughter's life. The lyrics fit perfectly because they help magnify the horrible impact Regina has.
Nadina Hassan as mean girl Regina George. Photo by Jenny Anderson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
The digital set was a personal favorite, specifically during “World Burn” where we see Regina (Hassan) carrying out her revenge — scattering the pages across the school to cause chaos and paint Cady, Gretchen, and Karen as the villains. Not only do the lyrics tell the story but the set navigates us through Regina’s breaking point. We start with a solid background, fading into the images depicting the lies she attempts to feed everyone. We end up seeing red light and a fiery, apocalyptic background. The background and tech quite literally set the stage to show us what Regina was feeling in that moment — rage and vengeance.
I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about the dialogue, pondering if that was going to be the form of communication for the story. After seeing the full show, I am happy to retract that opinion. Not only did the cast and crew express the story through music but also through beautiful choreography — seen in “Where Do You Belong?” with the students expressing their social standing in school or in “Sexy,” where the girls inform us of the true meaning of Halloween through provocative movements. The terrific set designs drew me in, too. It all added up to make “Mean Girls” an amazing production that left me in awe.
Don’Tia Almon, a junior at Iroquois High School, leads the Harry Potter Club, and has classes including cinematography, guitar, and A2C English. They also founded a school-based group where lowerclassmen can get academic assistance and process their feelings and fears.