At one time or another, we have all pondered what it might be like to go back to high school, especially if we could “know” what we know now.
“Mean Girls,” the 2017 musical adaptation of Tina Fey’s campy 2004 film, proves that little has changed in those intervening years. There is still a cruel caste system that dictates cafeteria protocols, dumb jocks will be dumb jocks and the “plastics” prize superficial beauty above all. The only tangible difference is they’re now all armed with smart phones and social media accounts.
Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) is literally thrown in this untamed jungle after growing up in a literal jungle, home-schooled by her parents in the wilds of Kenya. She meets the flamboyant Damian (Eric Huffman) and the artsy loner Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey), who encourages the newcomer to pretend to be friends with the plastics and learn their secrets.
Cady is successful and soon, at the expense of Regina (Mariah Rose Faith), finds herself the leader of the clique. Barely recognizable and now a “mean girl,” Cady also forsakes Damian, Janis and her math teacher, Mrs. Norbury (Gaelen Gilliland).
Unless you went to the New York City High School for the Performing Arts (“Fame”), it’s unlikely the student body at your high school broke out into full-fledged production numbers over lunch hour. But, wouldn’t it be cool if they did?
The highlights of the show are the big production numbers and their real star is Damian, the comfortably out student we all wished we could have been in high school. In “Where Do You Belong,” Damian and Janice introduce Cady to the various social groups in the cafeteria and the social suicide she will commit if she joins the mathletes. To open the second act, Damian dons tap shoes for “Stop,” a musical intervention and warning of meanness to come. Jeff Richmond’s high energy, pop-infused score and Nell Benjamin’s witty lyrics serve director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw well.
A multi-surfaced LED wall serves well as set, magically transforming from the African plains to the classrooms North Shore High School and more, thanks to movie-quality video animations by Finn Ross and Adam Young. The fast-paced maneuvers of students rolling lunchroom tables and desks around the stage mimicked the glitzy, kaleidoscopic choreography of Hollywood filmmaker Busby Berkeley.
In a contemporary show like this, costume design is often overlooked, but Gregg Barnes masterfully dresses the cast for every occasion from classroom and costume party to mathlete competition and spring formal.
“Mean Girls” was famously snubbed by Tony nominators last year, but judging from both the quality of the production and the audience reaction, this show definitely deserves an “A” for effort.
Broadway in Fort Lauderdale presents “Mean Girls” through Sunday, March 15 at the Broward Center. Tickets start at $40.50 at BrowardCenter.org.