The musical “Mean Girls”—continuing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through Jan. 29—brings out all the anxieties of high school assuaged only by its talented cast’s energetic singing, dancing and well-timed comedy plus colorful, dynamic staging. While you may cringe at the high school memories “Mean Girls” triggers, you’ll certainly enjoy the vivacious performance.
With its book by Tina Fey—based on her 2004 comedic film of the same name—“Mean Girls” acerbically sends up teen caste hierarchies through the innocent lens of outsider Cady (English Bernhardt). However, thanks to Cady’s intimate knowledge of predator-prey behavior on the African savannah, she soon becomes the ultimate insider.
If that premise seems sophomoric, it’s because it is. Homeschooled for 16 years in Kenya by her white biologist parents, Cady has to suddenly moving back to Chicago with them for job reasons. Ripped from an apparently idyllic Eden where she walked on earth rather than concrete, counted innumerable stars and could name all the birds singing, Cady is literally thrown to the "lions" in her new suburban high school.
Regina George (Nadina Hassan) reigns North Shore High School as chief lioness, deciding who lives and dies in its cutthroat halls, trailed by subservient gal pals Gretchen (Jasmine Rogers) and Karen (Morgan Ashley Bryant).
The latter two steal the show in their individual moments—Gretchen harboring existential anxiety about who she is without Regina, and Karen simply being her delightfully simple self (played pitch-perfect by Bryant), the only character seemingly true to herself as well.
Cady is at first taken in by fellow outsiders Damian (Eric Huffman)—described as “almost too gay to function”—and Janis (Lindsay Heather Pearce), who may also be gay. They help Cady survey the cafeteria to decide which clique she “belongs” in. But the newcomer is quickly snapped up by Regina for her pack of “Plastics” because she’s “pretty,” though she’ll need new shoes.
Cady not only adapts readily to the “apex predator” ways of Regina, but learns to play dumb in calculus for the “love” of fellow math geek Aaron (Adante Carter)—who turns out to be Regina’s former boyfriend.
The marvelous rollercoaster of a plot that follows soon has Regina gaining weight through Cady’s conniving and essentially body-shamed into stepping down from her throne for breaking a rule about wearing sweatpants, the only clothing that will fit her (Hassan gamely strutting a prosthetic derrière in one hilarious sequence).
But soon enough, Regina cunningly weaponizes her “burn book”—which details what she and her entourage really think of everyone—to usurp Cady.
While wrongs are eventually righted, with some apparent learning along the way, there is a certain hollowness at the story’s core. It may be that the format of a musical doesn’t allow as much character development as would explain how Regina got to be the queen bee in the first place. Or why Cady is so ready and willing to change herself to fit in, even sacrificing her love of math for a boy. Or even why, in a quick scene, Cady’s parents say she can stay home alone on a weekend they’re away. Things just seem to happen.
We do get songs, though (music by Jeff Richmond with lyrics by Nell Benjamin), which help fill in some of the emotional landscape and add even more fun. Gretchen’s “What’s Wrong with Me?” is the most internally revealing while “Whose House Is This?” during Cady’s out-of-control party is perhaps the most fun, featuring lively rapping by Kevin G (Caleb Mathura).
And the sets (designed by Scott Pask with lighting by Kenneth Posner) are bright, colorful and vibrant from start to finish, a clever digital background shifting seamlessly to work with the story, such as reflecting pages from the “burn book” and images of fire during Regina’s apocalyptic song “World Burn.”
Staging is also clever, such as an early sequence where performers rotate desks synchronously to show Cady moving from class to class. Humble red cafeteria trays are also creatively employed in the choreography of “Where Do You Belong?”
Best of all, the cast’s acting, singing and dancing are stellar throughout, each member giving their all to the briskly paced, high-energy demands of the show, confidently directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholow. Voices are remarkably strong for each of the leads, each solo impressively delivered.
Besides the excellent main cast, Heather Ayers deserves a shout-out as math teacher Ms. Norbury, a voice of sanity and reason for Cady, while also playing Regina’s seemingly alcoholic mom, who amusingly joins in on the lamentation, “What’s Wrong With Me?” but as mother to a teen.
While the high school anxiety “Mean Girls” conjures doesn’t exactly get a cathartic release, the resolution uses the imagery of “I See Stars” to be meaningful to the characters. But for the audience, it’s the explosive energy of the cast and exciting staging that carries the show, making “Mean Girls” a decidedly “fetch” experience.
“Mean Girls” continues at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, through Jan. 29, with shows Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $39 to $149 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (866) 755-2929 or visiting BroadwayinHollywood.com. Masks are optional. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission.
“Mean Girls” will also perform at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, from March 7 to 19. Tickets can be purchased at scfta.org.