Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Tina Fey won accolades for her film screenplay; her book for the musical has the movie's same sharp sense of humor and follows the film plot faithfully. The story centers on Cady Heron (Danielle Wade), newly arrived in Chicago after being homeschooled in Africa. While the brainy Cady is an outcast who has never before been in a social school setting, she quickly bonds with her fellow nerds, including the artistic Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) and the proudly gay Damian (Eric Huffman). Cady somehow also falls in with the trio of girls knowns as "The Plastics" who are at the top of the school's social hierarchy, led by queen bee Regina George (Nadina Hassan) and her two faithful followers, Gretchen Wieners (Megan Masako Haley) and Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer).
Cady finds herself in a bind, torn between her fellow outcasts, who want her to use her relationship with Regina to bring the Plastics down, and the queen bees, who provide her with a sense of being in the in crowd, while also falling for Regina's handsome ex, Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter). So she does what any teenager with a dilemma does and sets up a crazily elaborate scheme to win Aaron's heart while also seeking revenge and bringing down the reign of Regina in the process. But things don't exactly go as planned as it also fractures all of the relationships Cady has developed and tears apart the school's social order.
Fey's book includes all of the memorable lines and scenes from the film while also updating it with modern references, including a major emphasis on virtual bullying and a compassionate plea for acceptance. Only the film's epilogue is strangely absent from the stage show. While there are numerous catchy songs, some of the music by Fey's husband Jeff Richmond isn't that memorable. But the lyrics by Nell Benjamin are often on par with Fey's witty dialogue.
Director Casey Nicholaw does a wonderful job keeping the pace brisk, the comedy high, the tension on tap, and the performances fairly three dimensional. Nicholaw's scene transitions are cinematic and seamless and propel the plot forward. They are helped immensely by the impressive, colorful, creative, and non-stop video projections by Finn Ross and Adam Young that create an ever-changing realistic backdrop, and Scott Pask's set design, which uses minimal set pieces that move and rearrange to form the next location. The use of desks and tables on wheels is highly effective to swiftly move from one classroom or school setting to the next. Nicholaw's choreography is energetic, upbeat and modern, and it is danced well by the large ensemble. Gregg Barnes' costumes are creative and colorful, with a wide range of outfits in Regina's signature pink color, and the lighting design by Kenneth Posner is colorful and impressive. Unfortunately, the sound design by Brian Ronan isn't on par with the other creative aspects, as it doesn't always succeed in delivering crisp vocals and dialogue.
Danielle Wade is very good as socially awkward yet entirely charming Cady, and Nadina Hassan is appropriately cold and calculating as Regina. While the two characters start out as being almost polar opposites of each other, they shift, change and grow throughout and both Wade and Hassan do well in depicting these strong women who intentionally or unfortunately mistreat and hurt others and learn the important lesson for doing so.
As Janis and Damian, who serve as the narrators of the musical (one major change from the film that works well), Mary Kate Morrissey and Eric Huffman are charming and lovable. Morrissey's impressive singing voice soars on her solos and Huffman's joyful and spirited dancing make him an audience favorite. Jonalyn Saxer is a hoot as the dimwitted Karen, and Megan Masako Haley's anxiety ridden portrayal of Gretchen, who continually questions "What's wrong with me?," is perfect and forms a natural connection to anyone in the audience who has wondered why they don't feel like hey fit in. Adante Carter is warm and winning as Aaron. April Josephine is excellent in the three adult female roles in the show, including Regina's mother who desperately wants to be known as the "cool mom," a hip teacher at Cady's school, and Cady's earthy mother. Lawrence E. Street is hilarious as the sarcastic school administrator.
Tina Fey's film screenplay beautifully smashed gender stereotypes while depicting the negative impact of what can happen in a high school setting when everyone is jockeying for status or simply just trying to fit in. She also showed that smart women don't have to play dumb to win. While the musical adaptation of Mean Girls may not offer anything fresh and original from the countless other films, TV shows, and musicals that focus on the life lessons learned in high school, it's still an energetic, funny and upbeat story and a cautionary tale about the effects of betrayal in the social media age and that you don't need to be someone or something that you aren't to truly fit in.
Mean Girls runs through November 7, 2021, at ASU Gammage located, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit meangirlsonbroadway.com/tour/.
Book by Tina Fey