“Don’t be a downer, Josh!” I told myself repeatedly as I walked into the Academy of Music theater. I knew what I was getting into. A musical adaptation of Mean Girls. “It’s not Ibsen,” I reminded myself, “It doesn’t have to be Sondheim. Just enjoy the show and have fun!”
I tried, dear readers. I tried very, very hard. And for a few brief moments, I did. In the two-and-a-half hour musical recap of the classic 2004 film, there were a few moments where I found myself earnestly laughing, or nodding my head to the shockingly forgettable melodies. So what is there to say of the touring production of Mean Girls: It’s fine, I guess.
The plot moves along, hitting the familiar beats of the movie. “Art weirdos” Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damian (Eric Huffman) have been upgraded to pseudo-narrators. Morrissey, in particular, gets a chance to show off some serious pipes. The show works best when its book echos the movie. There’s Glen Coco (you go Glen Coco!) and the girl that “doesn’t even go here!” But are we laughing because these lines are actually funny in this context or are we just reminded of being delighted by the movie?
The show is not particularly served by the surprisingly bland Regina George (Mariah Rose Faith). Faith’s Regina is more Disney villain Sharpay Evans than the venomously sexy titular Mean Girl. Neither is it helped by the even blander Cady Heron (Danielle Ward) in the role that Lindsey Lohan made famous. In fairness to both performers, these problems lie more with the book and direction than with individual interpretation.
Casey Nicholaw’s direction is largely (and literally) flat. The large LED screens don’t provide opportunities for the actors to climb up or rise above stage action. This leaves the eye starving for levels of any kind. Production numbers fizzle; very little here builds.
The show is not without some charm. Rounding out the plastics are the gossipy and desperate Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley) and the impossibly stupid Karen (Jonalyn Saxer). These parts have been giving a little added depth and quirk from their source material. It left me thinking that I would ditch Regina, Cady, Janis, and Damian, and gladly spend high school with them.
As I knew walking into the theater. Mean Girls knows its audience. Devotees of the movie (there are many) will likely enjoy this new, but not particularly insightful, reinterpretation. I guess they deserve a seat at the table too.
[Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street] November 19 -December 1, 2019; kimmelcenter.org