(Pictured (L-R): Megan Masako Haley (Gretchen Wieners), Nadina Hassan (Regina George), Jonalyn Saxer (Karen Smith), and Danielle Wade (Cady Heron) and the National Touring Company of Mean Girls Credit: © 2021 Jenny Anderson)
“Mean Girls,” road tripping to Old National Centre through April 3, concerns … well, you probably saw the movie. So I won’t go into much detail here except to say, for the benefit of incoming freshman, that a new kid at a clique-ridden high school gets some lessons in loyalty when she falls in with the feared “plastics.”
– When I first saw “Mean Girls” on Broadway, I went in without having seen the movie. Then it came across as entertaining but overstuffed. Returning to it on tour after having seen the film, I admire the adaptation even more while still finding it in need of trimming. Unlike cash-grab movie-to-stage adaptations like “Dirty Dancing” and “Flashdance,” “Mean Girls” does feel like the musicalization has justification beyond just the value of its pre-sold title.
– But it’s helpful when you can actually hear the lyrics without a strain. A show with this much cleverness embedded in the lyrics suffers without quality sound. I’ve heard worse but I’ve heard a lot better. Nadina Hassan as Regina George could well have been singing in another language for all we knew from the center of the orchestra section.
– And every first act song by the plastics would have been more effective if trimmed by at least a verse. Dragging out so many of the songs stretched the show much longer than it should have been.
– But it still has one number I’d rank with the best of the 2000s: “I’d Rather Be Me.” Side note: Isn’t it about time the Tony Awards includes a Best New Song category? I’ve heard all of the arguments against it, but none of them work for me. As arbitrary and debatable as any arts award may be, a Best New Song would give the uninitiated and the borderline musical theater fans something that can digest in a few minutes and perhaps get hooked. While the 2018 win would probably have gone to the song “Omar Shariff” from “The Band’s Visit” – a song and a show I love – I actually would have been rooting for “I’d Rather Be Me.” It’s rare that an upbeat song chokes me up but this one does every time – including on stage at the Murat as performed by Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis.
– Don’t assume that everything is always better on Broadway. When I saw “Mean Girls” there, the actor playing Damian had recently taken over the role and, unfortunately, wasn’t up to the part. On the other hand, the tour’s Damian, Eric Huffman, is a total delight. It’s a charm part and he makes the most of it without ever inappropriately upstaging his fellow cast members or getting in the way of the story. So what if his Act II opening, “Stop,” feels like a lift from “Turn It Off” from “The Book of Mormon”? Hoffman makes it fresh.
– Danielle Wade, has an early-Sandra Bullock vibe, a strong and varied voice, and, abetted by smart costuming, manages to make the journey of lead character Cady Heron believable and packed with real stakes. As absurd as things get, what she’s going through feels like it matters. Even stretched to unnecessary length, the ending still manages to be moving.
– It’s pretty amazing that the largely projected sets don’t feel like largely projected sets. The seamless video design work is credited to Finn Ross and Adam Young.
– Now if I can only get “Who’s House is This?” out of my head.