By ANNE SIEGEL
MILWAUKEE, WI – Life hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows for the national tour of Mean Girls, which is playing in Milwaukee January 25-30. Some of its performances in other cities have been knocked out by COVID infections, including Tulsa, OK. Due to the disrupted schedule, the show has postponed its appearances in two other Wisconsin cities.
To date, the musical has continued its entire Milwaukee run without having to cancel any performances (as of Thursday, January 27). This is good news for Broadway series producers at Milwaukee’s Marcus Performing Arts Center. The show is playing in the complex’ multi-tiered Uihlein Hall, which houses all of the Broadway series shows.
Since late fall, many Broadway touring shows are experiencing a double-edge sword: local theatergoing crowds are turning out in droves (good), while COVID cases are cancelling performances (bad). For the record, Milwaukee has been lucky. Its previous tours of “Hamilton,” (October) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (November) went off without a hitch. On all of the opening nights, the number of audience members was impressive.
However, Milwaukee is only halfway through its 2021-22 season of Broadway tours. We’ll see what the future brings.
Those who bought tickets for the Mean Girls tour are in for an exceptional treat. This teen comedy, based on the mega-hit 2004 film of the same title, pulls out all the stops in terms of entertainment value.
Unlike the musical Dear Evan Hansen, another high school-based show which delves deeply into emotional themes and a dark subject (teen suicide), “Mean Girls” rarely diverts from its overall upbeat message.
Tina Fey’s Wry Humor Prevails
Written with the tart comic flair of Tina Fey, with music by her husband Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Neil Benjamin, this musical version of the film brings it into the social media age. With numerous references to hashtags, shares, filters, etc., (and the fact that iPhones are prominent in many scenes), Mean Girls is truly a musical for our times.
The show is a visually glorious mix of high-wattage projections and set pieces that transport the characters with warp-like speed between classrooms, high school hallways, the mall and a yogurt shop (set design by Scott Pask, with projections by Finn Ross and Adam Young).
The look and feel of this tour display all the hallmarks of Broadway sizzle, with undoubtedly a price-tag to match.
The production’s singing, dancing and overall movement are particularly awesome. Some cast members come directly from the Broadway show, which closed permanently when the country went into lockdown in March 2020. This includes Danielle Wade, who handles the starring role with energy, style and precision (she also looks like a younger version of Tina Fey). The large ensemble executes its dance moves and songs with professional polish (direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw).
For the uninitiated, the plot focuses on Cady (Wade), who was homeschooled in Africa but recently transferred to a suburban American high school. Two friends, artist Janis (English Bernhardt) and over-the-top Damian (Eric Huffman), try to help her fit in. They encourage her to join the “in” clique – informally known as “The Plastics” – if only to do some espionage work on the sly. On top of the Plastics’ food chain is Regina (Nadina Hassan), flanked by sidekicks Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley) and Karen (Jonalyn Saxer).
Their jokes, poses and put-downs are delivered with gleeful delight, much as one may cringingly recall from high school days. Things change when Cady falls for Aaron (Adante Carter), a boy in her advanced calculus class. His former girlfriend, Regina, doesn’t take kindly to Cady’s newfound love interest.
Show Ends with Girl-Power Theme
With a flick of her long, curly hair and a provocative walk, Regina wins back Aaron right under Cady’s nose. Hurt and unsure of herself, Cady tries to win Aaron back by pretending to need him as a math tutor (she doesn’t). By the finale, Cady realizes her error and sings out a message to all the teen girls in the audience: “Be yourself!”
The songs, while nothing to write home about, lie easily on the ear. They are crafted in traditional Broadway style, which is a nice counterpoint to the high-tech projections whirling around the set. There’s even a tap dance number, starring Damian and a large chorus that could put the musical “42nd Street” to shame.
Lets hope those feet continue to tap – without interruption – for the remainder of this national tour.
Mean Girls continues through January 30 at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. To enter the building, a vaccination card or recent, negative PCR test – and photo ID – are required. Masks are required indoors. For more details, visit marcuscenter.org.