By Oline H. Cogdill
Is it possible to call the musical Mean Girls sweet, despite the tropes of teenage anxieties, insecurities, cliques and general high school malaise, not to mention the meanest of mean girls whose name has entered the lexicon of villains? Yet, sweet certainly captures the entertaining Broadway Across America production of Mean Girls, now at the Broward Center’s Au-Rene Theater through May 7.
Mean Girls doesn’t sugar-coat high school. But the musical does gently revisit those angst-ridden days that none of us would want to go through again but can look back with nostalgia and realize how all those cringe-worthy years shaped us. Even meany Regina George served a purpose for those of us lucky—or unlucky—enough to encounter a variation of this bully.
The skewering humor of Mean Girls comes from the book by nine-time Emmy Award® winner Tina Fey, based on her screenplay for the film, music by three-time Emmy Award® winner Jeff Richmond; and lyrics by two-time Tony Award® nominee Nell Benjamin. Tony Award® winner Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs.
But all that would fall apart if the Mean Girls production didn’t have a strong quartet to drive the story, And the Broadway Across America production does.
In Mean Girls, 16-year-old Cady Heron (an appealing English Bernhardt) moves from the African savannah where she grew up to suburban Chicago when her biologist parents change jobs. Africa—despite its lion prides—isn’t as wild or out of control as the teenager herds who roam her new high school. Cady finds new friends in budding artist Janis Sarkisian (a solid Lindsay Heather Pearce) and theater nerd Damian Hubbard (played by terrific Samuel Gerber who is the understudy for this role). Both are outcasts but are the kind of loyal, funny and intelligent teens anyone would be proud to call friends.
Cady also is targeted by the clique The Plastics—“shiny, fake and hard”—lead by Regina George (a deliciously cruel Nadina Hassan). These four young actors elevate Mean Girls as do Regina’s minions, the insecure Gretchen Wieners (Jasmine Rogers) and dim-bulb Karen Smith (Morgan Ashley Bryant).
While Cady agrees to pretend to be part of The Plastics to spy on them for Janis and Damian, the plan back fires. Cady is lured by The Plastics’ power over other students, their supposed popularity and their alleged superiority over others. There also is the “burn book” in which Regina and crew are as nasty as they want to be in their scribbles about fellow students. Cady also makes the mistake of falling for Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron (Adante Carter).
For these mean and nice girls (and boys), it is all about discovering who you want to be, finding your way as you claw your way to adulthood, cherishing friendship, being your own person, standing up to peer pressure, and host of other life lessons. Girls should absolutely not play dumb in class in order to get a boy’s attention—as Cady learns. We all know that those who peak in high school—even those who are the so-called heroes and whatever equivalent of The Plastics you had—don’t always keep that status in adulthood.
Mean Girls featured strong choreography (Lunch trays! File folders! Desks!) and singing though sometimes the sound got muddy and the lyrics unintelligible, a recurring problem at the Broward Center.
The appeal of Mean Girls is that adults and teenagers both can relate to the story. My young companion is a big fan of the movie. When I asked this high school senior how many times she has seen the movie, she said “When have I not seen it?” Mean Girls goes across the generations.
Mean Girls runs through May 7 in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America series. Times are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Running time 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $35 to $120. For tickets visit www.browardcenter.org; or call 954-462-0222; orders for groups of 10 or more call 954-660-6307.