Saturday, June 2, 2018

Legitimate Theater: Bonus #2. Mean Girls (2018)

Mean Girls
Welcome to Legitimate Theater: a column dedicated to movie-based stage musicals. The goal of this series is to explore those stories that originated in films and eventually worked their way onto Broadway and beyond. By the end of each entry, there will hopefully be a better understanding of this odd but rampant trend in modern entertainment. Are these stories really worth telling through song and dance? How can it even compare to the technical prowess of a camera and seamless editing? Join me on this quest as I explore the highs and lows of this trend on the third Wednesday of every month and hopefully answer what makes this Legitimate Theater.


It seems that the Tonys want to honor the best of stage, which is spending this season paying homage to the best in film. At least, that's what it would seem given that Mean Girls is a film that has become a behemoth in the cultural zeitgeist, capturing millions of memes and catchphrases that define an era of high school comedies. While's it's singular as a piece of film, one has to wonder what exactly made the story appropriate for stage. With original writer Tina Fey and 30 Rock composer Jeff Richmond in tow, it at least has an authentic connection to the catty Plastics who wear pink and set out to ruin your lives. Is the musical more than just some weird tribute to a film that has withstood the test of time? The Tonys seem to think so.

A Quick Background

Tony Wins: TBD (12 Nominations including Best Musical)
Based on: Mean Girls (2004)
Music: Jeff Richmond
Lyrics: Neil Benjamin
Book: Tina Fey
Prominent Actors: Erika Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell


1. "A Cautionary Tale"
2. "It Roars"
3. "Where Do You Belong?"
4. "Meet the Plastics"
5. "Stupid With Love"
6. "Apex Predator"
7. "What's Wrong With Me?"
8 ."Stupid With Love (Reprise)"
9. "Sexy"
10. "Someone Gets Hurt"
11. "Revenge Party"
12. "Fearless"
13. "Stop"
14. "What's Wrong With Me? (Reprise)"
15. "Whose House Is This?"
16. "More Is Better"
17. "Someone Gets Hurt (Reprise)"
18. "World Burn"
19. "I'd Rather Be Me"
20. "Do This Thing"
21. "I See Stars"

Note: Listen to the music here

Song Exploration

Opening Song:
"A Cautionary Tale"

If you're going to start a musical about gossiping girls, it only makes sense then to start with a song full of sassy rumors. Someone will die? Not really. But still it captures the winking sense of humor that will be scattered throughout the rest of the album. These are mean girls whose whole job is to tear down others for their own superiority, and the sense of hearing them in the form of legend from the very start adds a certain impressive emphasis as to what kind of show this will be. It's not a very big story, and in fact takes place at some high school, but it feels big because of the emotions at the center. Oh yeah, and it's funny and starts in Africa.


While there are certain motifs that could be carried over from Mean Girls, the actual musical album doesn't pay tribute to the various cues audiences know well (no Kevin G. rap). However, the jokes are all there in their form, blended with the musical style. It would be hard to not do this show and not have a checklist going, especially since even word phrases have become pop culture staples: fetch, word vomit, October 3. These are all present, though the lack of "Is butter a carb" is a bit disappointing. Hopefully it's in the actual show.

High Point:
"I'd Rather Be Me"

The issue with Mean Girls is that its humor is sharper than its sincerity. The final stretch are well meaning songs that establish the theme, but they're oh so familiar and on the nose. So it's nice then that the show's secret MVP is the Janet songs, of which have the most moral compass of the entire show, whether it be in "Apex Predator" or "Revenge Party." Here, she tears down her bad behavior with the revelation that girls shouldn't have toxic relationships. The way she sings hits so many earnest notes that it becomes powerful, especially with the rambling style and inflection points that make the feeling a little imperfect. It gets the point of the show across beautifully, and more effective than the bigger, more obvious numbers. 

Low Point:
"Whose House is This?"

Even if the song was good, it would be tough to find another song on here that didn't in some way feel inessential. Yes, there needs to be a house party song, but this feels hokey in the worst way, featuring goofball rap that's outdated, as well as awkward teen partying motifs that have comedy but feel like they were written by people who haven't been to high school since the 90's. The chorus in particular is also too blunt to be as fun as the other songs, and it's generally just a jarring song given the form of the other songs on this album. If it's goofy, that's fine. However, it does really feel like a filler track.

What Does It Bring to the Story?

This is a tough question to answer because, in a sense, it brings nothing to the show. There's no real deviation from the familiar plot. All of the characters are in their familiar forms. The only difference is that everyone seems to be aware of the orchestra and breaks out into song through joking theater references. If the show has anything added to the production, it's bigger numbers that emphasize everyone's traits on a bigger scale. It tells the story through song in a way that decompresses the humor and creates something accessible for those who ever wanted to hear Karen sing about curing sex cancer. It has the humor, but it's the same package at the end of the day.

Was This Necessary?

As you will discover in this column as I get into lesser Broadway shows, I have conflict with the most recent trend of shows based off of movies. This is specifically in the sense that I don't feel like they do more than take something beloved and remix it. It may not be cynical, as evident here with Fey and Richmond giving Mean Girls fans just exactly what they'd get if it was a musical. However, I think that the reliance on what made the film so great essentially is what makes the musical so pointless. The production is solid, but it feels so much like a musical highlights show that it loses any authenticity. It's just a show where Regina George has a faux-seductive introduction now. There's not a lot here that suggests that it needed to be on stage, though it does well enough to appease fans. But still, it definitely makes me feel like Fey's best days are behind her, and this is just a weird victory lap of some kind. 

Coming Soon: With movie-adapted stage musicals up for Tonys this year, expect columns on Best Musical nominees SpongeBob Squarepants and The Band's Visit in the next week. 

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