As the second act of the musical “Mean Girls” takes shape and the girls hurtle towards the reckoning they sowed in act one, the mother of chief mean girl Regina George surmises it this way: “Girl stuff sucks. Why couldn’t it just be drugs?”
Instead of drugs, it’s heartbreak and angst and fat-shaming and just being … mean to each other.
“Mean Girls” is the Broadway musical version of the 2004 movie written by Tina Fey and staring Lindsey Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Fey. It was Fey who wrote the movie – and later the book for the musical – about the social reordering that took place when a new student arrives at North Shore High School in the Chicago area.
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 15; 1:30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 16; 8 p.m. Dec. 17; 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 18; 2 p.m. Dec. 19
Cost: Tickets start at $55 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or waltonartscenter.org
The musical debuted on Broadway in 2018 and got in 833 performances before the Covid-related closure of Broadway theaters in March 2020. It didn’t reopen when Broadway shows resumed, but by that time a touring version had been staged and it continues its march across the country. It’s at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville through Sunday (Dec. 19)
The new student who sparks the drama, Cady Heron (played in Fayetteville by Danielle Wade), has just arrived at North Shore after living in Kenya, where she was homeschooled by her parents. She opts for public school in the states to meet people and make friends. Thanks to an introduction by art freaks Janis Sarkisian (played by Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman), Cady learns of the social order at school. There are Mathletes, jocks, stoners and worst of all, The Plastics, the pretty and popular-by-force trio of Regina (Nadina Hassan), Gretchen Wieners (Megan Masako Haley) and Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer).
Cady is drawn to Janis and Damian’s offer of friendship, but doesn’t see the harm when asked to sit at the lunch table of the Plastics. Janis doesn’t see the harm, either – in fact, she’s hopeful Cady can return with some intel she can use to get back at Regina for a past grievance.
But Cady has more in common with the Plastics than anyone imagines, including a shared romantic interest with Regina’s ex-boyfriend, jock/math nerd Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter).
The action that follows fits the arc of teen coming-of-age comedies. There’s a breakup. There’s a teen party scene. And there’s the cataclysmic (but in this case also funny) event that changes the path for all involved.
As a musical version of this familiar story, the production leans heavily on style. The first act is rather breathlessly paced, and I quite liked the choreography. During the cafeteria scene that includes the numbers “Where Do You Belong?” and “Meet the Plastics,” for instance, cast members move lunch tables around in harmony with the song and use lunch trays as percussive instruments and props. It’s a lot of fun.
A bit later, during a Halloween party, two characters dress up as Transformers – wearing fully functioning Transformers costumes. It’s a lot of work for a 15-second bit. But it’s also indicative of the lengths to which the show is willing to go. Full set pieces rise and fall from the ceiling, and costumes are aplenty. There’s also the full-stage video board, which serves as a backdrop that transforms between a shopping mall, a quiz-bowl-style math tournament and the inside of classrooms. As Cady and Aaron discuss in their attempt to rekindle their connection, “More is Better.” That’s certainly the approach of “Mean Girls” on stage.
It’s also the rare musical where I enjoyed the first half more than the second. The conclusion falls into more of the tropes of the teen comedy than I’d like – but admittedly it’s not my favorite genre in any format.
The show is at times laugh-out-loud funny – it’s written by Fey, after all. There are scene-stealing cast members, such as almost every action between Morrissey and Huffman. And despite its “Mean Girls” reputation, it mostly falls on the sweet side of things.
Our take-home message, in fact, is that being yourself is the only way to go through life. That’s a fine reminder for our pressure-packed world.