'Mean Girls' The National Touring Company
Toronto's Princess of Wales
Adante Carter and English Bernhardt. Credit: Jenny Anderson
The scorching wit of Tina Fey’s book and Nell Benjamin’s clever lyrics are sometimes marred by the distracting and uneven sound balance between the orchestra and singers. I do hope this is rectified immediately.
I had no interest to see the 2004 film version of ‘Mean Girls’ when it opened, none, so I was going in blind to watch the musical at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre.
As a full-time teacher then, the story’s premise hit just a tad too close to home. Several students often in tears came to talk over the years about certain ‘mean girls’ who made life miserable for them for various reasons. Without going into further detail, a mean girl situation also led to the death of someone from the school where I worked which was devastating for me.
So, with this personal backstory, off I went with perhaps a slanted bias.
Effeminate Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) and gothic-looking Janis Sarkisian (Lindsay Heather Pearce at this performance) break the fourth wall to introduce us to newly arrived home-schooled student from Kenya, Cady Heron (English Bernhardt), to North Shore High School in inner-city Chicago. Cady encounters difficulties fitting in but Damian and Janis have their new friend’s back in introducing her to the ways of the school.
Meanwhile, Cady is also introduced to the three Plastics (The Mean Girls) from the school: leader Regina George (Nadina Hassan) and her two minion followers, second in command Gretchen Wieners (Jasmine Rogers) and blonde bimbo Karen Smith (Grace Romanello at this performance). A plan is put in place between Damian, Janis, and Cady where the latter will make friends with the mean girls, spy on them and report back what was said. In her AP Calculus class, Cady meets nice guy Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter) who broke up with Regina several weeks ago. Clearly, there will be friction between Cady and Regina when the truth will out and the ‘you know what’ hits the fan.
Throughout the story, there are moments of what I call high schoolish behaviour that, to be honest, made me feel uncomfortable. These plot moments were realistically staged in such a way they could happen in the school system today. For one, many of the Burn Book comments projected at the pre-show could come out of the mouths of these young people. It was reassuring to see a Program Note stating this National Touring Company is dedicated to inspiring change and providing positive ways to take action, stop and call out mean and bullying treatment of others. Does this initiative speak and resonate today?
For youth, yes, it surely does, and I hope they continue to call it out. As a retired teacher, I’m pleased to see that message come through at the conclusion (even though what happens to Regina initially shocked me from the approving catcalls and applause from some audience members).
Meanness and bullying, however, don’t stop when one becomes older. Hopefully, we respond differently: ie. call it out in front of others, tell someone where to go, or walk away and not engage. Sometimes our youth cannot do this, and they must learn how to face it on their own. Kudos to those young people who do call it out in front of others for what it is.
But truth be told, did I learn anything extraordinary or new about human nature from ‘Mean Girls’?
No, I didn’t.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to admire about this touring production because there is. For one, Tina Fey’s book is sharp-witted. I laughed out loud at the staging reminiscent of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ near the top of the show. The daring and exciting ensemble of youthful talent is one I hope to see either through future National Tours or trips to NYC. A quick side note: it was wonderful to see many young people in the audience as I’m certain they could connect with some of the ‘badass’ high school moments.
I hope the sound balance between the orchestra and the actors can be fixed immediately. In many of the ensemble musical numbers, I missed A LOT of the scorching wit of Nell Benjamin’s clever lyrics and that grew frustrating for me as the show progressed. Finn Ross and Adam Young’s video designs at the top of the show are boldly in-your-face colourful to match how these mean girls like bright pastel colours to make them stand out from others.
Director Casey Nicholaw’s staging moves at breakneck speed which greatly works at keeping the story propelling forward. There are some wonderful musical solo numbers so acknowledgement to Music Director Chris Kong’s work here, especially in Jasmine Rogers’ poignant ‘What’s Wrong with Me?’ in the first act. Casey Nicholaw’s choreography remains athletically and dauntlessly daring.
Some standout performers in this Touring Company. English Bernhardt is naively sweet as Cady who learns the value of friendship. Nadina Hassan’s Regina is believably catty that you just want to wipe that sarcastic smirk from that face (or at least silently cheer as she puts on weight). Jasmine Rogers’ always eager to please Gretchen truthfully shows her growing fatigue in doing this in her ‘What’s Wrong with Me’ solo. Grace Romanello’s dumb blonde and vacuous-headed Karen is a riot and a hoot.
Eric Huffman’s Damian is that kind of friend we all need in our lives – someone who chooses not to play the game and allows people to see him for who he really is. Plus, Huffman is one hell of a tap dancer so sit back and simply enjoy his work in ‘Stop’ in the second act. Lindsay Heather Pearce’s Janis naturally convinced me that sometimes ‘looks can be deceiving’. Janis may dress differently, but there is a true-spirited, smart individual underneath all that dark clothing. Adante Carter’s Aaron is that nice guy who likes Cady for who she is not what she’s trying to become.
Final Comments: As we slowly, oh, so very slowly, emerge from this pandemic, I believe shows like ‘Mean Girls’ will bring young people back to the theatre.
I plan to take a look at the initiative ‘Change is Fetch’ and see what’s going on.
Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The National Touring Company of ‘Mean Girls’ plays to November 27 at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
Book by Tina Fey Music by Jeff Richmond Lyrics by Nell Benjamin
Based on the Paramount Pictures film ‘Mean Girls’
Director and Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Music Director: Chris Kong
Video Design: Finn Ross & Adam Young
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Costume Design: Scott Pask
Performers: English Bernhardt, Nadina Hassan,k Jasmine Rogers, Morgan Ashley Bryant, Lindsay Heather Pearce, Eric Huffman, April Josephine, Adante Carter, Kabir Bery, Lawrence E. Street, (plus many others listed in the programme)