Musical version of beloved Y2K film ‘Mean Girls’ gives story convincing update
By Abigail Knoop | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter
New Albany High School, Class of 2022
“Revenge Party” would be a pretty accurate way to set the mood when it comes to this show. A party. While I sat watching, I couldn’t help but smile because of how much fun the actors looked like they were having during the opening night of the PNC Broadway in Louisville’s production of Mean Girls last Tuesday.
As someone born in 2004, I can’t vouch for how accurate to the times “Mean Girls” the film was then. But as someone experiencing high school now, I can fully vouch for just how accurate this show with its book by Tina Fey, music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, is at portraying the experience.
Mary Kate Morrissey (Janis Sarkisian) and the national touring company of "Mean Girls." Photo by Jenny Anderson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
"Mean Girls" the musical directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and based on the 2004 film, premiered on Broadway in 2018. It ran in Louisville from March 22 to 27. I was lucky enough to see it through Arts Angle Vantage, a youth arts journalism program.
I really felt like all the teenage girls (maybe even boys) saw a small piece of themselves in this show — whether they liked it or not. The set pieces before the show started that were displaying “burn book pages” were all incredibly recent insults and commentary. Such as one page that said, “0 followers.”
The creators took interesting approaches to modernize the show to appeal to their audiences. Whether it be small comments like the year being 2019, or the ensemble members wearing “Hamilton” shirts, I felt like it transported me to my own school halls.
But before I get into the plot, let me explain exactly how I saw it. I would have a completely different perspective if I had watched a bootleg of this show at home.
I got to see this with a group and my mom as my plus one. Which I would not have changed just because of how funny it was to see my mom react to some of the material!
Experiencing the crowd reactions play a big part in how I tend to feel about musicals. I love watching everyone around me react (sometimes laughing at them), and “Mean Girls" gave me a run for my money. I laughed at some jokes I wouldn’t have because everyone around me was laughing so hard.
Jonalyn Saxer (Karen Smith), Nadina Hassan (Regina George), Megan Masako Haley (Gretchen Wieners), and Danielle Wade (Cady Heron). Photo by Jenny Anderson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
I also came to this musical as a pretty big fan of the movie but skeptical. Usually, I’m not a big fan of movies being made into musicals. The makeover always changes the beloved movie way too much. But this transformation changed my mind.
While this wasn’t a sequel to the movie, I felt that it added an answer to every question the movie failed to develop and more. For instance, the character of Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) was a lot less shallow. In the original movie, her childhood spent in Africa almost felt like a joke. But the musical expands upon that with dialogue and songs including a scene in the second act with Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter). In this scene, Cady talks about missing Kenya and how weird it feels being in Chicago. I really felt like that was necessary for her character and I was happy to see that in the show. That was just one of the small changes that really improved the story.
My absolute favorite part of the show was the set pieces. They made “Mean Girls” one of the most visually impressive musicals I’ve ever seen. Electronic projections would change and move with the scenes. I was absolutely blown away by how quickly and how well the set would change — particularly the scene of the well-known auto accident.
The actors were absolutely in their own little worlds up on that stage and it was a blast to see. DeShawn Bowens, as Damian Hubbard, stood out. I was blown away that he was the understudy. He brought such an exciting energy to the character, and I couldn’t stop laughing when he was on stage. I can’t imagine liking the show as much as I did had he not been Damian.
The musical with its diverse cast also was a much more accurate reflection of contemporary life than the film. Several characters that were originally portrayed as white in the movie were people of color in this performance. And these characters weren’t created in token POC manner of casting. Nadina Hassan as Regina George brought a feisty and fresh energy to the character, and I loved that they didn’t focus on her being a person of color. The same goes for Carter’s portrayal of Aaron Samuels.
Seeing yourself on stage lies 100% within the casting. And when it comes back to seeing yourself on stage, I felt pretty seen by Janis Sarkisian’s (Mary Kate Morrissey) character. A particular song comes to mind, “I’d Rather Be Me” in the second act. It’s a song that I feel all girls in the audience can once again relate to, but as someone who has struggled to find my place in high school, it was almost relieving to watch a song being performed where a girl simply said to “Raise your right finger to how girls should behave!”
So, while I can’t vouch for 2004, seeing this show as a current high schooler was an amazing experience that was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Once you’re out of high school you can’t truly relate as much as you can in high school. Whether you’re a mean girl or you pretend you’re not, this show has plenty to teach you.
Abigail Knoop is a senior at New Albany High School, where she is a section editor for the school newspaper, The Blotter. She’s been in numerous productions through NAHS Theatre arts since 2018 and is planning to study Elementary Education and Journalism at Indiana University Southeast in the fall.