Theater – Mean Girls

Most of the time I do not feel cool, or on the bleeding edge of what is going to be considered “cool” in the near future.  I’ve passed the point in my life where I can reliably be counted on to tell you what’s new and hip across all areas of pop culture.  And while I may have awareness of what’s trending in certain areas (I can usually tell you what movies are getting a lot of buzz despite not having been in the theater in MONTHS), while at the same time being mostly oblivious in other areas.  Do not ask me about pop music anymore – I know nothing about what is going on.  Taylor Swift has a new album out, right?  But that’s the extent.

Somewhere between those two categories, you’ll find my knowledge of what’s coming down the pipeline for major theater and musical productions.  I was aware of and intrigued by Hamilton the summer it got huge, but didn’t listen to the soundtrack for months after it came out.  I was aware of other shows when they were in pre-production stage, but didn’t know much about them.  But being a theater nerd – I mean, why else do I have an entire tag categorizing all my theater outings? – I want to be more on the inside and to know what’s going on.

So when the musical version of the movie Mean Girls announced that they would be having their pre-Broadway tryout in DC, I knew I wanted to get in on that.  Of course, being slightly behind the times, I bought my tickets a week or so after they went on sale, and while our seats were great, it could have been more fun to sit lower and/or closer?  Whatever.  I got tickets, and that’s what matters.  I took my cousin K, but I think she would admit herself that she wasn’t a huge fan of the movie, and afterwards she said she liked it, but thought it felt too much like we were watching an episode of “Glee”.  Since I hadn’t been hearing a lot about the preview performances in the mainstream press, I figured I should talk to someone else who had seen it, and luckily my friend Emma went to a performance a week before mine.  The following is an excerpt of an “interview” we did over email.

Maggie: How familiar were you with the movie going into the show?  Would you call yourself a fan?

Emma: I am a huge fan of Mean Girls! The movie came out when I was early in college and I thought it was hilarious.  I remember being surprised at how much the story resonated with me. I scooted along through high school somewhere in the middle. Not popular, but not a “nerd” per se, I remember struggling to decide what to wear, and what to say, and where to sit, and who to sit with. The movie touched very real emotions for me and my friends.

M: I remember feeling the same way when I saw it.  It also helped that the world of the movie was pretty much the same one I inhabited in high school, at least technologically.  Cell phones existed, but the internet and smartphones hadn’t exploded into the huge phenomenon and challenge that they are in high school today.  Have you ever seen other shows before they went to Broadway?  Was this a factor in why you wanted to see the show in Washington?

E: I saw Come From Away last year at Ford’s Theatre and thought it was just incredible; the staging was so
cool, the music was thrilling, and the story was so moving in its rawness. But then I totally missed Dear Evan Hansen when it debuted in DC, so that was certainly part of my motivation for wanting to see this version of Mean Girls. Mainly, though, I was really eager to see how they would translate this story into musical form, with so much of what drives the narrative in the movie coming in the form of biting one-liners. The characters’ mannerisms and quirks are so indelible to the story – how would that come through on stage?

M: I noticed that too in the production – they did seem to pull some of the most iconic lines and find ways to incorporate them fairly seamlessly.  The only problem I noticed with that was the audience knew when those lines were coming, and there were huge cheers for them, for example, “She doesn’t even go here!“.  What was your overall impression of the show?  Did it feel like it was still a work in progress?

E: I thought this show was wonderful. The set design was really interesting, with digital screens moving around, giving the ability to quickly pivot from one scene to the next really fluidly. The actors all had very powerful voices and I thought the songs were really creative and potentially very catchy. The major jokes from the movie carried through in the musical, and I appreciated that they integrated current pop culture and tech advances to bring the show from 2004 to 2017. The only thing that made me feel like it was still a bit of a work in progress was a minor snafu with a major set piece that wouldn’t retract in the second act. They dropped the curtain to deal with the issue and we all nearly fainted when none other than TINA FEY emerged to tell the audience that no one was hurt, they were just working out some set hiccups, and the show would go on shortly.

M: Can I just say how jealous I am that you saw Tina herself?  So cool!  It almost makes me jealous that we didn’t have any snafus on the night we went!  So – having seen the show, and knowing the characters from the movie, who stood out to you in the musical version?  Were there any songs you particularly enjoyed?

E: Karen was my favorite in this musical version. Of course, Karen is terrific in the movie version as well, but in the stage production, her character sharply contrasts Regina George in such a delightful way through various scenes and songs. All the numbers were exciting and dynamic, but in particular I really liked the intro number for the Plastics in Act I and early in Act 2 when Cady throws a house party – especially Karen’s hilarious number about sexy Halloween costumes [“I Can Be“].

M: That sexy Halloween number cracked me up too.  And I loved Damien and Janice as narrators for the show – it worked really well.  And their numbers, Where Do You Belong? and I’d Rather Be Me” really stood out for me.  But maybe I feel more attached to Damien and Janice because they are characters I grew to love having seen the movie many times.  Who did you see the show with, and is it the kind of production you think people who haven’t seen the movie before would enjoy, or is it niche?

E: I saw the show with several of my good friends from work. We’re all around the same age, so I think the show particularly resonated with us, given our love of the movie. I’m not sure people who hadn’t seen Mean Girls would love it as much; my mom, for example, loves musicals but I feel like the quick pace of the dialogue and music, paired with current cultural references and high school dynamics, may not be as relatable for her.

M: My thought as well – it’ll be interesting to see how the show does when it goes to Broadway and has a wider audience beyond millenial women who saw the movie when it resonated most for them.  Thanks so much for chatting with me!

E: Thank you for asking me!

Details: Mean Girls, playing at the National Theatre through December 3 (nearly sold out!!!), Previews begin on Broadway March 12.

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