The Philadelphia premiere of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls musical is at the Academy of Music until December 1st.

-Brenda Hillegas

Photos by Joan Marcus

A book, adapted into a movie, then adapted into musical. It’s a process that has been done many times before. Very rarely though does the content become a huge hit that translates amazingly across the board. In 2004, Upper Darby’s own Tina Fey took a hold of a self-help book called Queen Bees and Wannabees and wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls– a successful comedy about high school girls, their cliques, and how to deal with mean teen behavior. With quotes from the movie still being casually thrown into conversations today and a story line that will never be dated, could Mean Girls be set to original music and land a spot on Broadway?

Yes. Duh.

Tina Fey herself wrote the musical’s book and her husband Jeff Richmond (a three-time Emmy award winning composer) wrote the music. This show was developed by some musical theatre big shots too. Lyrics were written by Tony nominee Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde the Musical) and the show’s director/choreographer is Tony winner Casey Nicholaw (The Prom, Something Rotten!, Book of Mormon). In 2017, the sold-out preview run premiered at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Mean Girls quickly traveled to Broadway and earned 12 Tony nominations. Simply put, you just can’t miss Mean Girls while it’s in Philly as part of the first national tour!

This “Cautionary Tale” begins with best friends and social outcasts Janis (Philadelphia native and former Kimmel Center intern, Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damian (Eric Huffman) introducing the audience to the story that’s about to take place. Cady Heron (perfectly played by Danielle Wade) moves to Illinois with her parents after growing up and being home-schooled in the African savanna. The only life she’s ever known was a jungle full of wild predators and it turns out that a typical American high school is no different.

Enter the Plastics. As Cady meets the three girls at the top of North Shore High School’s “food chain”, she’s faced with a dilemma anyone who has ever been in high school can relate to- does she want to be mean and manipulative, yet cool, like them; or will she stick to with Janis and Damian while being known as the weird new girl from Africa? You probably already know, but just in case you don’t, we’ll leave it at that.

The cast of this national tour really does justice to not only the actors who originated these characters in the 2004 movie, but also those who appear in the original Broadway cast (I saw them, so trust me). The young women playing the Plastics truly become an evil trio of high school royalty and flawlessly show off their talent and musical range in character specific songs. “World Burn” and “Someone Gets Hurt” for Regina’s (played by Mariah Rose Faith) ruthless vibe, “What’s Wrong With Me” gives the audience a glimpse of Gretchen’s (Megan Masako Haley) lack of confidence and desire to be included, and “Sexy” proves Jonalyn Saxer is incredible as the not-so-bright Karen.

There’s name calling, appearance shaming, rumor spreading, boyfriend/girlfriend stealing, and everything else we’ve done (or had done to us) in high school. Yes, face it. We can all relate to Mean Girls. But the musical doesn’t try to hide its positive message and hope that the audience has some sort of “ah-ha” moment in the second act. Instead, numbers like “I’d Rather Be Me” (sung so passionately by Mary Kate Morrissey) and the closing ensemble performance “I See Stars” really let you know that being you is the coolest thing you can be. Trying to be like someone else just to fit in is ridiculous. Pointing out someone’s differences and laughing at them rather than celebrating them is so not “fetch”. Be your own unique self and let others do the same.

Mean Girls

Mean Girls, both in plot and in staging, is bright and unique. Classic Broadway show-stopping performances are brought to life in songs like “Fearless” (updated for the Mean Girls tour) and “Where Do You Belong”. A creative digital set allows for quick scene changes and is really useful in complementing songs and characters.

Don’t worry- the musical is just as great and “mean” as the movie. It’s a bit heavier on the social media references, because that’s how we all communicate these days. But the Burn Book didn’t go anywhere and pages still fly as Regina belts out “World Burn”. And all of your favorite quotes from the movie stayed put. Just try hard not to shout them out along with the characters (you are in a theatre, keep it classy). “She doesn’t even go here!” does warrant a bit of a cheer, so that’s okay.

So maybe now is a great time to take your teens/preteens or nieces and nephews to the theatre. They’ll probably all be visiting for Thanksgiving anyway and at the very least, you’ll be given the prime opportunity to point towards the kids table at dinner and yell “you can’t sit with us!” Be the ‘cool’ relative and grab some tickets to the show.

This season, the Kimmel Center is also pairing its 2019-20 Broadway series with charities. In honor of the Plastics’ love for pink, Mean Girls’ is partnering with Susan G. Komen Philadelphia. Please use code PINK when ordering your tickets so that $1 from every Mean Girls tickets sold will be donated to Susan G. Komen Philadelphia.

Mean Girls is here until December 1st. Wear your pink.

An American Sign Language (ASL) and Audio Description (AD) performance of Mean Girls will take place on November 29th at 8:00 p.m.

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