'Mean Girls' is a fetch way to spend a weekend day
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, March 4, 2023
Finally arriving in San Diego following a prolonged pandemic pause, the Mean Girls tour jetted into the Civic for a five day run before moving on to its next venue following the March 5 performances.
The musical, written by Tina Fey and with music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, tells the story of Cady Heron, a high school girl who has recently relocated from Kenya to Chicago. While she is very familiar with the habits of the native animals of Africa, she has less familiarity with social hierarchies at her new school. Cady is befriended by two misfits, Janis and Damian, who try to help her navigate the peril of her first day in the cafeteria. To everyone’s surprise, Cady is invited to sit with three popular girls, Regina, Gretchen, and Karen (dubbed The Plastics by their classmates). Looking to take advantage of this perceived stroke of luck, Janis and Damian enlist Cady as a covert spy from her new position of power. Complicating matters is the fact that Cady is developing a crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels, and all the while, despite initially pretending, she is finding it more and more comfortable to assume the mantle of a member of the clique.
Based on the 2000s movie Mean Girls starring Tina Fey, the musical is a pretty faithful adaptation; it was clear from the plethora of fans (many of them sporting pink and thematic merchandise) that the source material is much beloved by this particular crowd. And, despite a cliché story and somewhat mediocre score, Mean Girls finds redemption in all of the zingers that an entire generation enjoyed on the silver screen, a feel good message, and a solid set of performances by a large, energetic, and youthful cast.
Special standouts during Wednesday’s show included understudy Iain Young as Damian, standby Adriana Scalice as Janis, and understudy Megan Grosso as Karen, each of whom did an outstanding job leading their high energy numbers. Young is an absolute powerhouse in his tap number “Stop” while Scalice leads “I’d Rather Be Me” boldly and with passion. Grosso is delightfully affable and silly in “Sexy” and a crowd favorite.
English Bernhardt (Cady) and Adante Carter (Aaron Samuels) are a talented duo and lovingly craft a high school romance that moves the plot forward alongside the vivacious trio of Plastics (Nadina Hassan as Regina, Jasmine Rogers as Gretchen, and the aforementioned understudy, Grosso).
Beyond individual performances, the ensemble’s dancing is entertaining and fun, thanks to director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s cleverness and knack for visual storytelling. Nicholaw’s use of classroom desks, rotating tables, thrust bedroom sets, cafeteria trays, and a bus contribute to some of the show’s most successful moments and biggest guttural laughs. One moment in particular of choreography had me audibly cheering as the featured dancers slid underneath ever-moving benches during “Apex Predator."
I am also really impressed by the creative way that the design team generates the wide variety of locations in which the story could unfold. This is a challenge for any show, especially one that is loading into and out of a variety of spaces across the country. To check this box, Mean Girls leans heavily into the use of projections which display an array of venues on static walls across the stage. It makes sense that Scenic Designer Scott Pask earned a Tony nomination for this work. The audience is treated to watching lockers, wallpapers, and classrooms tumble into the space with perfect perspective and timing. A few cheesy effects exist, sure (namely, the balloons, confetti, and “flying Regina”), but all in all, the projection/scenes are a great testament to the important of technical artists in co-crafting the story in meaningful ways.
Mean Girls isn’t the most substantial play that ever existed, sure, but somehow its cute, charming nature is endearing and… well… fetch.
Mean Girls plays at Broadway San Diego’s Civic Theatre through March. 5.