Tina Fey’s Hilarious Path to Privileged Girls’ Self-Approval
by Amy Deng
At the Golden Gate Theatre, Tina Fey’s satirical humor combines with Jeff Richmond’s dynamic music to make “Mean Girls” a delight. Based on the movie Mean Girls, the musical reminds us that comparing ourselves to others is self-destructive.
In her suburban high school world, Cady (English Bernhardt) yearns for more shoes and more friends, like corporate heads who aspire to more money and status in Silicon Valley. However, nobody can win this hopeless pursuit. And the tactic of putting down others backfires.
Cady, a math-loving home-schooled girl has transferred from Kenya to a North Shore Chicago high school. My heart aches for Cady when students laugh at her baggy, waterproof African pants. I, too, was once a transfer student from China who struggled to blend into the suburban teenage fashion of ripped jeans and white vans.
When naive Cady tries to make friends, she meets the meanest of all mean girls, Regina George (Nadina Hassan). Regina sets impossible standards with her intricate makeup and super-stylish outfits. Regina belittles everyone.Even I felt dominated, again, by her spiteful arrogance.
Cady tries to fit in by replacing her sports sandals with hot-pink laced high heels. Costume designer Gregg Barnes does wonders reflecting characters through their outfits. But, as she squeezes into short skirts, Cady loses her down-to-earth personality.
Even the powerful girls are fragile in the meaningless chase for status. Regina’s sidekick Gretchen (Mary Beth Donahoe) appears confident but squeaks in panic at Regina’s every criticism. Gretchen’s exaggerated self-blame makes us chuckle, but also compels us to ponder the destructiveness of power trip and conformity. Gretchen can shatter anytime, like “an iPhone without a case.”
Cut-throat competition stretches from Mean Girls to the corporate board rooms and stock markets. The tech industry optimizes for profit and clout without adhering to ethics. From Theranos to Sam Bankman-Fried, bright leaders lie shamelessly to get ahead.
However, lies are consuming and disastrous. Cady lies to Regina to get her on an all-carbs, weight gain bars diet. While Regina’s disproportionately large glutes are funny, Cady’s web of lies causes her to lose her crush, Aaron (Adante Carter). Accompanied by Jeff Richmond’s melancholy score, Aaron tells Cady disappointingly that “there is less of you than there was before” in the song “More is Better.”
Cady finally rediscovers her earnest and intelligent self at the state math competition. The only other girl at the competition responds to her friendly greeting with a dirty threat. Shocked, Cady realizes that students must support each other, rather than compete viciously. The upbeat and freeing song “Do This Thing” vividly conveys Cady’s sense of liberation when she finally starts being who she is.
Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” teaches teenage American girls to be themselves and encourage all of us to be kind and genuine to ourselves and others. With its pizzazz and jokes, “Mean Girls” touches us with a memorable hot pink glow.
“Mean Girls” – book by Tina Fey, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, music by Jeff Richmond, based on Paramount Pictures’ Mean Girls, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, at Golden Gate Theatre, San Francisco, California. Info: BroadwaySF.com – to February 26, 2023.
Cast: Eric Huffman, Adriana Scalice, English Bernhardt, Heather Ayers, Iain Young, Caleb Mathura, Andante Carter, Wesley J. Barnes, Sky Flaherty, Lawrence E. Street, Nadina Hassan, Mary Beth Donahoe, Megan Grosso, Dan Horn, Avilon Trust Tate,
Michael Samarie George, Susie Carroll, Samuel Gerber, Chelsea Michell-Bonsu, Grace Romanello, Kevin Wang, Erica Simone Barnett, Noah Blessing, Sky Flaherty, Jamary Gil, Lily Kaufmann, Milan Magaña, Sydney Mei Ruf-Wong, and Kyra Smith.
Banner photo: English Bernhardt, Jasmine Rogers, Nadina Hassan, Morgan Ashley Bryant, Lindsay Heather Pearce & Company. Photos: Jenny Anderson