‘Mean Girls’ musical loses much of the joy, soul of its film counterpart

Instead of telling a story with real flesh-and-blood girls, the Tina Fey stage musical feels plastic.

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Danielle Wade (Cady Heron), Megan Masako Haley (Gretchen Wieners), Mariah Rose Faith (Regina George), and Jonalyn Saxer (Karen Smith) in the National Touring Company of Mean Girls Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

Danielle Wade (as Cady Heron, from left ), Megan Masako Haley (as Gretchen Wieners), Mariah Rose Faith (as Regina George), and Jonalyn Saxer (as Karen Smith) in “Mean Girls” now playing at the Nederlander Theatre.

© 2019 Joan Marcus

You’ll get no argument from me — the high school ecosystem is brutal. Those formative years have a way of leaving an indelible mark on one’s psyche.

‘Mean Girls’

Untitled

When: Through Jan. 26

Where: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph

Tickets: $30-$120

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission

“Mean Girls,” the 2004 movie penned by Tina Fey (inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s book “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence”) did an excellent job of satirizing the teen spirit of those years, while also making a statement about the pressures that lead girls to sabotage each other, play dumb to attract boys and develop body dysmorphia. It’s easy to mock these concerns as superficial, but girls don’t cultivate them in a vacuum. From Vogue to “America’s Next Top Model,” there’s an entire planet yelling at them about what’s hot and what’s not.

“Mean Girls” the 2017 stage musical, however, is no “Mean Girls” the movie. Despite several good lines (book by Fey, music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin), it’s a bloated, joyless weak-sauce copy that derails the movie’s ultimate celebration of girl power.

Danielle Wade (Cady Heron) and Adante Carter (Aaron Samuels) in the National Touring Company of Mean Girls Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

Danielle Wade (Cady Heron) and Adante Carter (Aaron Samuels) in a scene from the National Touring Company of “Mean Girls.”

© 2019 Joan Marcus

Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw can’t change the fact that in this telling, new girl Cady (Danielle Wade) learns how not to be a conniving beeyotch mostly from Aaron (Adante Carter), the cute guy she’s crushing on. Without teen boy insight, Cady would probably still be as petty and cruel as her frenemy, Mean Girl Regina George (Mariah Rose Faith).

The plot hews fairly close to the movie: Cady moves to North Shore High School from Kenya. Cady befriends “art freak” Janis Sarkisian (Mary Kate Morrissey) and Janis’ bestie Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman). The three cook up a scheme: Cady will infiltrate the Plastics, Regina’s clique, which also includes Karen (Jonalyn Saxer) — little more than a prolonged dumb blonde joke, minus the underlying sweetness of movie Karen — and the deeply needy Gretchen Wieners (Megan Masako Haley). Once Cady’s in, she will take Regina down. Thus the prey become the predator. It falls to math teacher Ms. Norbury (Gaelen Gilliland) to set things right at North Shore, with a lecture that ends in series of trust falls, and a big, old hear-me-roar anthem from Janis.

Richmond’s score overall gets a “C.” While Benjamin does get in a few clever lyrics (the girls sing of running the world in shoes they can’t walk in), Richmond’s music is so forgettable, I feel like I forgot it while the cast was still singing. Also, some of the lyrics are memorable for the wrong reasons, as when bubble-headed Karen talks about sending nude photos to an adult man when she was 13 and then being crushed when he shared them.

Scott Pask’s set is essentially a series of screens for Finn Ross & Adam Young’s elaborate video design, which takes the stage from the Pepto-Bismol-hued décor of Regina’s bedroom to the blue-and-gold halls of North Shore High.

The performers are fine. Faith captures the confidence of Napoleon and the sensuality of Cleopatra with her slithery-sensual turn in “Meet the Plastics.” Morrissey’s powerhouse voice fills every inch of the theater with “I’d Rather Be Me.” Wade has enough spirit for an entire pom squad in “Fearless.” Saxer has fun with “Sexy,” a song that lampoons the sexification of Halloween costumes (sexy Eleanor Roosevelt, sexy corn and sexy Rosa Parks are featured). And Nicholaw’s choreography has its moments: “Where Do You Belong” features some winning moves with lunch trays, while Huffman gets to show off his tap skills in “Stop.”

None of that mitigates the overall soullessness of “Mean Girls.” Instead of telling a story with real flesh-and-blood girls, it feels plastic.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.

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