The Broadway in Orlando series continues to take the stage, this time transporting the audience back to the cruel halls of high school! Mean Girls, based on the book by the famed Tina Fey, is playing now through March 1st (2020) at the Dr. Phillips Center and I had the chance to see it opening night with Hubby. There were a tremendous number of teens in the house that evening, as well, and it made me wonder. Is this the kind of performance we want our children to be watching on stage? What message does this show convey and what will our teens actually take away from the production? At the same time, there’s a unique opportunity here for teachers and parents alike. So, let’s dive a little deeper, shall we?
I was invited as media to cover this event. All opinions shared are mine and mine alone.
Mean Girls Take Center Stage
Brace yourselves, because I’m going to be sharing my perspective as both a theater nerd and a mom, a mom who has two teen boys at home and a 20 year old in college. I tried desperately to see if I could separate the two, but recent events in our own community compelled me to write both into this piece.
So, let’s start with this question: When you were in high school, did you find a place to fit in? Was it easy for you to find your niche, clique, group of best buds?
It wasn’t for me. I mean, I was a theater kid and loved living in the theater / music department. I was there before school, during lunch, in place of study hall and after school if I knew I had a ride home. However, I still never really felt like I fit anywhere (to be honest, I don’t now either – but that’s a whole other story to tell). High school was tough for me and full of stories that parallel pieces of Mean Girls. I had friends, but I just didn’t quite find my fit into the picture.
Our sons, on the other hand, have different stories. Our 16 year old found his fit within one month of moving to this school in the middle of his sophomore year. The youngest, who just reentered brick and mortar after homeschooling due to health reasons, actually did, as well. They knew their interests, pursue opportunities in those interests and found their friends within those passions.
I know – they were lucky, fortunate, blessed – whatever you want to call it. We know.
About Mean Girls, The Musical
The story in Mean Girls is centered around a young teen girl, Cady Heron, who is uprooted from her life in Africa when her mother takes a new job in the Chicago area (Interestingly enough, our boys can relate as they have moved several times throughout their lives). Completely oblivious to cliques and the idea of an “in-crowd,” Cady struggles to find where she belongs in the school. Is it with Janis and Damian or with The Plastics? Does she join the mathletes or put all of her efforts into being popular? In the process of figuring this all out, however, she quickly learns how cruel and vindictive people can be, as well the potential she has to be just as vicious as the next teen.
It’s an age where fitting in was one priority and avoiding being a target the other. It’s also a period in life where teens are desperately trying to figure out just who they are on the inside, what boundaries they can safely cross, and where their true interests and strengths lie.
What I liked about Mean Girls, The Musical
Though I didn’t see the movie when it originally came out in 2004, I have seen it since. I’ll confess, it was never a favorite, though I am a fan of Tina Fey and her comedy. I’m not, however, a huge fan of promoting bullying, arrogance, privilege or entitlement. Laughing at it even makes me cringe. However, Mean Girls does a great job at shining a light on what’s wrong with those behaviors and how destructive they can be. We see the direct consequences and the results of being so vindictive and selfish. I have to give it to Tina Fey and her writers for that. It’s not that the behavior is condoned in the show. Rather, the show brings it all “center stage” so that we know how disastrous our words and actions can be.
With regard to the technical aspects of the production, I was entranced by the mastery behind the set design. It was spectacular to watch as each scene both digitally and manually transitioned smoothly, without hiccup. You knew where you were at every moment and it was bright, applicable and absolutely convincing.
The choreography was breath-taking! Everyone was in sync, sharp and full of life up there on that stage. The contemporary beat had me tapping my feet! Some of the most captivating choreographed numbers even involved student desks and lunchroom tables! The way they maneuvered those props around the stage in synchronized fashion, keeping with the rhythm, was no less than spectacular.
I love theater vocals. There’s a different quality and strength to the tone and it just seems more authentic and real to me, especially in a contemporary show like this. While, as a musician, I’m not a huge fan of hearing throaty or nasal character, the raw sounds, the edgy riffs ~ it all seemed to fit the show like a glove.
I was actually a huge fan of the acting in this performance. All but two roles (Gretchen, Mr. Duvall) fell into place for me and I truly felt as if I was watching a group of high schoolers tell their story. With regard to the two roles that didn’t resonate with me, I heard several others saying the same. We’ll just chalk it up to being opening night and hope they pull it together for future shows. (wink, wink)
CAST TIDBIT: My 16 year old informed me that Danielle Wade (Cady Heron) was actually in the ensemble cast when he saw it in New York City last April. She owned her leading role on the Orlando stage! I really enjoyed her performance, along with her counterparts Mary Kate Morrissey (Janis), Erick Huffman (Damian), Mariah Rose Faith (Regina) and Jonalyn Saver (Karen – oh, my gosh…she was hilarious!!!).
What I didn’t like about Mean Girls, The Musical
To be honest, I abhor predictable endings. It’s just a personal preference, but it just ultimately takes away the opportunity to be “wow-ed.” I also find it rather ironic. The entire show is about being authentic, not being fake and, yet, the entire ending is just that…unrealistic and inauthentic. Oh, it’s an ending we all hope to happen, but the reality is that what we saw is rarely ever the case.
Would I recommend Mean Girls, The Musical?
NOT FOR KIDS!!! As adults, we laughed – a lot – and found Tina-Fey-humor written all over that script (honestly, I could see her – and Amy Poehler – written into several roles on that stage). However, there was a lot of adult content, profane language and vicious behavior that may not be appropriate for young adult audiences. I actually chose to keep the 13 year old home on this one, even though he is in high school.
Our 16 year old saw it in New York City while on a school trip, but the teacher wasn’t aware at the time of the questionable elements. I probably would have considered saying, “No,” had I known. However, at the same time, I did let him see Dear Evan Hansen with me. Fortunately, our son is mature enough to handle this kind of material and, to be honest, the new teen in the house is, too. I just don’t think that younger than 13 should see it. Call it personal preference – call it “momming-hard,” but I just don’t think it provides any benefit to any child below high school age (and still then, use discretion).
But I’m not your children’s mom ~ so you have the privilege of figuring that out for them.
There is profanity in the show – and we’re not just talking the minor ones. There is a good deal of talk about sex. Many of the female characters do handle their chests often and there is a dramatized scene where one of the girls is on stage in her “underwear” (it’s obvious that she is wearing a padded bottom half, but still). There is bullying and cruel pranks are played. My request is that you just take this into consideration before taking a child to see this. Adults – enjoy! You’ll laugh a lot!
Now, I do believe that there is a tremendous opportunity here for teachers and parents. Let me explain….
Time To Get Personal:
Yup – I’m going there.
We are in an age where teen suicide is on the rise. Just in our community alone, we have lost two precious teens since Christmas, at least three since we arrived here just two years ago. One is too many, but I fear there are others just waiting for their moment. The actions we see in this musical are some of the behaviors that encourage people to contemplate taking such drastic measures. I only wish we knew the magic formula to make it all stop. It’s not one person’s fault. It’s not the community’s “fault.” There is no one trigger. There are so many factors (social, chemical, familial, situational) that influence the heartbreaking actions these kids take. As a collective, I think we all need to find a way to improve our perspective, behavior and reaction, understanding that they absolutely have an effect on the person next to us. Not one thing is going to solve this problem of losing our children long before their time is due.
We need to be kinder, more gentle, more understanding and more accepting of each other.
In that audience on opening night, there were tons – yes, tons – of teens from schools all over central Florida. I wonder how many felt the reality of what this show conveyed.
My hope is that the teachers who accompanied these students to the show will not only speak to the theatrical aspects of the performance (which is important – absolutely), but the need to end the destructive behaviors they saw played out on that stage. Teachers – please use this story as an opportunity to build bridges versus encourage poor choices.
On a performance level, I thought Mean Girls was a spectacular demonstration of talent. It was highly energetic and quite entertaining. I may not have found the story as captivating as other productions I’ve seen ~ I mean, it’s pretty basic (don’t be cruel, don’t be fake, be authentic and don’t be a bully) ~ but the message was still effective and creatively conveyed.
Mean Girls is here in Orlando until March 1st.
To see if the Mean Girls Musical Tour is coming to a stage near you, click here: Mean Girls On Broadway Tour Dates
About The Dr. Phillips Center
The Dr. Phillips Center is home to a multitude of productions. From Broadway and game shows to the local high school Applause Awards, there is something for everyone’s performing arts palette. Just recently, the Dr. Phillips Center announced the 2020-2021 Broadway line-up. Check out what’s coming to the Walt Disney Theater stage starting this September!!!