The 2004 smash-hit film Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey and based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, takes a hilarious, honest, and heartfelt look into the complex, often hierarchal relationships that develop between high school girls. The stage version, onstage now for a short run at the Durham Performing Arts Center, also features a book by Fey and takes this same exploratory stance, but it adds in original music by Jeff Richmond, tongue-in-cheek lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and fabulous direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw. The result is a story that’s just as timeless and fun as the original but with an extra festive, totally fetch flair.
Just like in the film version, viewers are introduced to sweet-but-naïve Cady Heron (Natalie Shaw), a girl who’s just moved from the jungles of Africa to the jungle that is North Shore High School. There, she quickly meets two funny, loyal, and offbeat friends, Damian, hilariously portrayed by Ethan Jih-Cook, and Janis (Alexys Morera). Together, they hatch a plan to help Cady infiltrate and annihilate the popular “Plastics” group, made up of queen bee Regina George (Maya Petropoulos), not-so-smart Karen Smith (MaryRose Brendel), and hanging-on-by-a-thread Gretchen Wieners (Kristen Amanda Smith).
As Cady blends in with their group, she slowly learns how to navigate “Girl World,” but her rise to popularity comes at a price. She risks losing herself, her values, and her true friends in the process. To see how it all turns out, you’ll just have to watch, but rest assured that every moment of this wild, hilarious romp is totally worth it.
Nicholaw’s choreography is smart, sleek, and incredibly inventive. He uses everything from shiny red lunch trays to rolling desks to believably blend dance and movement into the setting. In his apt hands, the show feels like it was always meant to be a musical. Similarly, Benjamin’s lyrics add depth to the characters and their emotions. And, while some movies-turned-musicals feel dragged out and bogged down by filler material, this one is fast-paced and full of life. It features all the iconic moments and beloved quotes from the movie, while adding in just the right amount of new material.
And, speaking of iconic, the powerhouse cast truly does these much-loved characters justice. Shaw is sweet and endearing in her role as Cady, and you couldn’t ask for a funnier Damian. Jih-Cook pays homage to the original portrayal while adding in a special spice that’s all his own. Similarly, Brendel’s Karen is a little-bit-Amanda-Seyfried with plenty of originality mixed in. Her version of the character is convincingly dense, delightfully deadpan, and downright adorable. Smith makes for a surprisingly sensitive Gretchen, and Petropoulos creates a scary, powerful, and commanding Regina. Other standout performances include Morera’s snarky, angel-voiced Janis and Kristen Seggio’s impressive juggling act as Cady’s mom, Regina’s mom, and harried teacher, Ms. Norbury.
Cool lighting effects, simple but attractive sets, and killer costumes that feature plenty of pink round out the show and fully immerse viewers in this all-too-familiar high school world. Both fans of the film and newcomers to the story are sure to find plenty to love here, but don’t wait. The performance only runs through the 26th, so grab your burn book, watch out for buses, and don’t miss the hottest party in town.
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