The world of Tina Fey’s movie, a High School comedy, 2004’s “Mean Girls”:best described as “Heathers” lite, amusing and inoffensive. Tina can hit a lot harder than she does in “Mean Girls,” the story of cliques in High School, especially the coolest of them all, “The Plastics,” but that was nearly fifteen years old and Tina was still becoming Tina.
I was in my late 40s when “Mean Girls” was released and it made zero impression upon me, but I went to see the musical version still in previews at Broadway’s August Wilson on Saturday, wore the tee shirt Sunday and three separate women, all in their mid to late 20s, asked me how I liked it. Translation: it is resonating with women in their late to mid-20s. An opinion that widened upon viewing the audience at the Saturday matinee, which could have been helicoptered in from last December’s Jingle Ball no questions asked.
The movie was social bullying as Hollywood dreamland. Lindsey Lohan, back before she jumped off the deep end of life, was homeschooled in Africa Cady Heron, who returned to Chicago in time to have to figure out the rules of the most vicious school of them all: High School cafeterias. Portrayed by Erika Henningsen, the 25 year old musical theatre actress (she was Fantine in the recent Broadway revival),Cady is as unlikely an awkward 16 year old as you can imagine. She’s movie sixteen, though what she really is is an all singing, all dancing pro much more comfortable in the middle of the show. For some bizarre reason, The Plastics, lead by 27 year old pro (she’s been in entertainment since she was ten) Taylor Louderman’s Regina George, the main mean girl, and even she isn’t that mean though she is Alpha all the way. On one side, there is outsiders gay Damian Hubbard (Grey Henson) and lesbian Janis Sarkisian (Barrett Wilbert Weed),on the other the other two plastics, the insecure Gretchen Wiener(Ashley Park) and the dumb as a post Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell). Add Regina’s ex, Cady’s infatuation Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig) and the showdown is ready for cady to spy on Regina and hope to bring her down before getting corrupted by the dark side.The pleasant, light weight 150minutes go by in a blur with the hint of a bite, like mint ice cream.
The staging is fun, the musical’s trajectory, as Cady goes from spying on The Plastics to leading them, and finally losing herself,is very well done.. The book, by Tina Fey, could have teeth -it is too vanilla, nothing too bad happens and in some way Cady lacks any reality is a math whiz who in a semester can overthrow and then lead the leaders of the school. A party at Cady’s house while her parents are aware leads to… nothing really. One doesn’t expect a frothy musical to really illuminate teen girls, and this one sure doesn’t, even so it’s target audience seemed to enjoy it and I can see why, it is well paced, simple and enjoyable.
But it isn’t memorable, and it is easy to see why: the damn music and lyrics aren’t good. Jeff Richmond is a Tina cohort who used to score “30 Rock” and is in so over his head it isn’t funny, and Nell Benjamin wrote the lyric to the godawful “Legally Blonde”. I count one memorable song here, “Stop”. True, that’s one more than “Wicked” and just one less than “Frozen,” but I am sick of leaving musicals whistling the scenery. If you are a girl at heart, you should enjoy it but you won’t be asking strangers about in in fifteen years time.
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