Most members of the energetic cast currently touring Casey Nicholaw’s multiple Tony-nominated Broadway production of Mean Girls (★★★☆☆) are reprising roles from the 2019-2020 tour, and their experience shows in the well-honed comedy and character work on display.
As Gretchen Wieners and Karen Smith — two of The Plastics, the pastel-pretty apex predators of the story’s high school jungle — Megan Masako Haley and Jonalyn Saxer know where all the laughs are. They nail Gretchen and Karen’s dramatic beats, too.
And Mary Kate Morrissey, with the pipes to elevate every song she takes on, delivers snark without resting on stereotype in her portrayal of proud misfit Janis Sarkisian, eager to see The Plastics toppled from atop the North Shore High food chain.
Janis might get her wish with the arrival of new student Cady Heron, played by Danielle Wade, also reprising her role from the previous tour.
An American girl raised in Kenya, Cady hasn’t a clue how to navigate the social savagery of a suburban Illinois high school, but she learns fast from Janis and vividly gay fellow outcast Damian Hubbard, performed by Eric Huffman, another in the cast with an engaging take on their character and firm handle on the comic timing.
Damian and Janis’ tutelage in numbers like “Where Do You Belong?” sets Cady up for finding popularity. But she really vaults up the social ladder when she’s taken under wing by — and subsequently threatens the reign of — the school’s Queen Bee, Regina George, alpha of The Plastics.
Nadine Hassan, a relative newcomer to this cast, offers a slinky, torchy Regina who doesn’t exude the world-beating confidence wielded by Rachel McAdams’ sweet and vicious Regina in the 2004 film.
The production also suffers in comparison to the film at the center, with Wade’s Cady such a wholesome innocent, rather than simply naïve to the ways of American teens, that this home-schooled girl who grew up on the savanna feels devoid of toughness and texture. She’s less of a match for take-no-prisoners Regina, and appears motivated to bring down the Queen Bee not for the sake of equality, but only over a boy — Regina’s uninteresting ex, Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter).
The musical’s book, by Tina Fey — who also wrote and co-starred in the film — still brings plenty of solid jokes, and a generous way of spreading out the punchlines among the entire cast. For example, the preternaturally composed school principal, Mr. Duvall, played by Lawrence E. Street, has a funny bit for every brief appearance, and Street always gets the goal.
The songs, with music by Emmy-winning 30 Rock composer (and Fey’s husband) Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Tony-nominated Nell Benjamin, are not as flavorful as the script.
Benjamin’s lyrics explain and proclaim but rarely inspire, and Richmond’s tunes hum along without much pop, except for the world music beat of Cady’s “Stupid with Love” and the light funk of “Whose House Is This?”
It doesn’t help that, either as a matter of vocal direction or sound mixing for the tour’s engagement at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the group vocal numbers sound a little muddled.
Bright, colorful, and distinct, on the other hand, is Scott Pask’s scenic design, largely abetted by movable LCD screens that switch and slide with precision. The visual joke of a character being smacked aside mid-sentence by a speeding bus is a particular highlight of the smart combo of sets, craft, and video design.
The costumes by Gregg Barnes, and hair and makeup by, respectively, Josh Marquette and Milagros Medina-Cerdeira, likewise add to the gleeful atmosphere, and capture the Mean Girls spirit of youth, fearlessness, and female friendship.
Mean Girls runs through April 24 in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $45 to $199. Call 202-467-4600, or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more national tour stops, follow the production on Twitter at @MeanGirlsBway.
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