By Kimberly Rau
Mean Girls is at the Providence Performing Arts Center this week, much to the excitement of fans of the 2005 Tina Fey movie by the same name. However, the film is a home run, and the stage version falls short of the same acclaim.
The good news is, Tina Fey wrote the musical’s book, and even an update to present day doesn’t hamper that. The film came out before social media was the monster it is today and before smart phones were in every teenager’s back pocket, but the musical handles this leap with ease. After all, social media and technology are nothing but the perfect conduits to elevate the popular (and make bullying even easier).
If you’re not familiar, 16-year-old Cady Heron is plopped in a public school in Illinois after living with her scientist parents in Kenya for most of her formative years. She has a lot to learn about the hierarchy of the American teenage social ladder after being homeschooled in another country, and outcasts Damien and Janice offer to take her under their wings. But Queen Bee Regina George and her posse of “plastics,” super-popular Gretchen and Karen, have other plans, and snap the unwitting Cady up. Soon Cady finds herself in the midst of a maelstrom of boys, backstabbing and academic peril, and must hit rock bottom before being able to understand the importance of being true to herself.
The cast is incredibly talented, particularly Lindsay Heather Pearce as the sarcastic, tell-it-like-it-is Janice and English Bernhardt as Cady. Both have powerful voices that are well-served by the score (the lyrics are hard to understand at times, and largely forgettable, but the music itself sounds good and these actors make it sound even better). Eric Huffman plays “too gay to function” Damian, and is the perfect foil to Janice’s prickly façade.
Nadina Hassan as Regina George is intimidating and will make every adult in the audience reminisce (or call their therapist) about their own high school “apex predator.” In this role at least, Hassan’s voice sounds best when it’s belting, which she gets to do in Act 2’s “World Burn.”
The ensemble is strong, though we don’t get to see a whole lot of them, as most of the story surrounds the Janice-Damien-Cady triangle and the Plastics. In Act 2, there’s an unexpected and fun tap number (“Stop”) that showcases some very talented dancers, which is a welcome shot of adrenaline in a show that’s definitely starting to feel long by that point.
The set is mostly made up of projections, which are sharp, but a mixed bag in terms of quality. The “scenery” projections are great, creating believable classrooms, bedrooms and building facades. The special effects projections (balloons with Regina’s head, streamers), feel cheesy, and it’s not clear whether that’s intentional (and if you have to speculate, it’s not hitting its mark).
The truth is, not every movie needs, or should have, the Broadway treatment. As a musical, Mean Girls has a good story and witty dialogue that’s well-updated, but most of the musical numbers feel forced and lack any real staying power, despite the very talented cast that brings them to life. The movie itself is a fast-paced hour and a half; the stage version drags on an hour past that, and doesn’t add much to the message. It’s not a bad show by any means, but it’s not a smash, either. Much like high school itself, there are some wonderful moments, but some of it is bound to fall short of expectations.
“Mean Girls” runs through Oct. 9 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787. Masks are optional.