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REVIEW: Ephemeral Mean Girls Just Gotta Have Fun (Orpheum Theatre)

A scene from the touring production of Mean Girls, now playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Pictured: Danielle Wade, Megan Masako Haley, Mariah Rose Faith, and Jonalyn Saxer. Photo by Joan Marcus.

If stage and film were taken as the measure of U.S. society, one thing’s for sure: our high schools look terrible. Not visually – these tend to be set in photogenic locations, rather than depressing brutalist buildings of many districts’ reality. Neither are we talking about the high schoolers who populate the musical Mean Girls, who happen to look remarkably fashion-forward and put-together, all things considered. Rather, it’s how the high school experience is universally cast as a terrible, backstabbing, clique- and bully-controlled experience from start to finish. To that, one must ask, how much do you like a shot of schadenfreude in the morning?

The joys of the musical Mean Girls mostly involve laughing at the terrible things that people do to each other and themselves. There’s revenge, there’s pettiness, and there are crowning moments of awesome for probably not good things. You’re not going to learn any life lessons at this musical, nor should you expect that. This show is designed first and foremost as an entertainment, using the now-iconic 2004 film written by Tina Fey as its base. If you liked that movie, you’ll love this show.

The plot in brief: Cady Herron (Danielle Wade), a homeschooled child raised in rural Kenya, arrives in the United States to attend public high school. Under the direction of Janis (Mary Kate Morrisey), she pretends to befriend a trio of cliquish girls nicknamed the Plastics, in order to enact a revenge 3 years in the dreaming. This ends badly, but – as happens with these entertainments – turns into a heartwarming set of ruminations, commiserations, and lessons learned. Please now proceed to forget the plot, because what really drives Mean Girls and makes the musical fun is, quite simply, the characters being super mean.

Jonalyn Saxer, Mariah Rose Faith, Megan Masako Haley, and Danielle Wade in a promotional photo for the national tour of Mean Girls. Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews.

If you enjoy the art of the verbal takedown, good news: Tina Fey’s book for the musical is filled with lots of them, including more than a few that aren’t in her 2004 film script. (Fey fans will recognize the tone of her later Bossy Pants book.) There are also many visual gags punctuated by Finn Ross and Adam Young’s excellent video designs.

The songs in Mean Girls are a grab bag assortment. The opening number’s main feature is that it is eminently forgettable, and the new ending to Act I doesn’t really send you out with a bang. A few numbers, such as “Apex Predator”, seemed under tempo during Wednesday’s performance. Sprinkled in there, however, are some very distinctive songs that are either powerfully funny, moving, or just plain cool. In the first category is Karen’s song “Sexy”, performed to hilarious effect by Jonalynn Saxer. The twist-and-tugging duet “More is Better”, performed by Danielle Wade and Adante Carter, fits in the latter category. The crême de la crême is Regina George (Mariah Rose Faith)’s song “World Burn”: a marriage of exquisite songwriting, penetrating and iconic visual design, and sterling vocal performance.

Mean Girls is probably not the sort of show that will be playing 50 years from now. Here in 2019, however, it’s lots of ephemeral fun. 150 minutes pass quickly and joyfully, and you can leave all of your cares at the door going in and coming out. That’s worth setting the world on fire for, right?

Mean Girls plays though October 13 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.


Basil Considine