August Wilson Theatre, London
It lives up to the hype. It truly lives up to the hype. Mean Girls follows Cady Heron, who moves from the wilds of Africa to the wilds of suburban America, where instead of facing lions, malnutrition and loneliness, she faces boy drama, social issues and the struggle to stay true to herself.
Shortly after joining North Shore High School, Cady is shown the various cliques that inhibit the halls. When the most popular girls at school, The Plastics, invite her to join their group, her real friends see it as a perfect way for her to go undercover and infiltrate the cool kids who rule the school.
The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name, written by Tina Fey, who adapted her own work from screen to stage. The music is by the composer of various television songs and Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond, and the lyrics are by Nell Benjamin, who also wrote for another hit screen-to-stage musical, Legally Blonde. This is a super high energy musical which is perfect for all audience types (although perhaps a little mature for younger children).
There are mixtures of sounds and styles which make this musical feel very fresh in the current theatre climate. There’s pop, contemporary musical theatre, soft-rock, classic musical theatre and so much more which brings the show right up to date and keeps the audience on their toes.
Each character has its own musical feel which fits perfectly; Regina, for example, has slow, drawn-out music which keeps us all in her web of power, whilst Gretchen has to sing everything quickly so as not to be cut off by Regina and Cady’s songs are all very Disney-esque and flouncy. The songs of Mean Girls are sure to become regulars in rep folders, karaoke essentials and just earworms in general.
Ashley Park as Gretchen Wieners is so solid and provides a masterclass in committing to your character and putting the work in to make you believe every moment. She is hilarious and vocally stunning as Gretchen but the way she embodies the character is truly what makes the performance special. Kate Rockwell is dippy to perfection as the iconic Karen Smith and she really shines during Sexy which has the audience howling. Jennifer Simard is hilarious and versatile as Mrs Heron/Ms Norbury/Mrs George. Her voice is outstanding and she again brings the memorable moments of the film to life but puts her own spin on them.
At this performance, Cady Heron was played by understudy, Becca Petersen who is wonderful in the role both vocally and acting wise. Compared to the film, I felt much more sympathy for Cady and due to her kindness and innocence, found her a much more likeable character. Her being drawn to the allure of popularity feels natural although we still see the awful way she abandons her true friends.
Barrett Wilbert Weed as Janis is outstanding. From the first moment of Cautionary Tale she is completely natural in the role and it feels as though the real Janis has been plucked out of Illinois and placed on the August Wilson stage. Her best friend, partner is crime, Damien is played superbly by Grey Henson who is comedy on feet and it feels as though it was written in the stars that he would play the role.
The stand out of the show has to be Taylor Louderman who is everything and more as the head Plastic, Regina George. Her voice soars so effortlessly that it’s like she’s being auto-tuned in front of our eyes. Again, the way Taylor embodies Regina is mesmerising to watch and she is so spot on with every aspect of her performance. Someone Gets Hurt and World Burn are two of the best theatrical moments I’ve ever experienced.
Technically this show is sensational. The sets by Scott Pask are super simplistic but work well in a jenga-like way to transport us to the few locations of the show; with the screens not only bringing the show into the digital age, but providing constant stimulation for the audience. Modernity is also brought through Gregg Barnes’ costumes which are intimately thought out. The Plastics of course, are dressed like they’re constantly at an afternoon tea but the rest of the cast look like real, current students. So often with shows set in High Schools, the costumes are unrealistic or even outdated; the playbill states the the show takes place in “The Present” so it will be interesting to see whether the costumes change over time to fit with trends or whether the show becomes synonymous with 2018. Small details such as the theatre ‘geeks’ wearing actual show merch and Janis letting her hair grow out (perhaps symbolising her desire to avoid conformity), make the show feel truthful and grounded.
Tina Fey’s book brings all our favourite moments from the Mean Girls film to life but the addition of new witty one liners and more character development means nothing feels recycled. Mean Girls is fresh and funny as well as having a strong moral heart which highlights bullying and acceptance. If you want a grool night out, get yourself along to the August Wilson theatre… and for us in the UK, lets start a stagey prayer circle for a West End transfer!
photo credit: Joan Marcus