Everyone remembers that moment in the theater when the lights finally dim. We recognize the immediate hush of the crowd and the restless movements of the audience in their seats. When the show is about to begin, the whole world stops.
Broadway productions have mastered this effect. It creates an otherworldly experience only possible in a professional theater setting. On Aug. 30, the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin got its very own taste in the form of Broadway’s “Mean Girls” production.
The theater was packed with audience members of all ages, each anticipatedly flipping through their bright pink playbooks. Vibrant and complicated graphics of pages of the notorious Burn Book flashed on the screen behind the empty stage.
The second the stage lights flipped toward two individuals, the infamous Janice and Damian, the entire theater was transformed. Through a quick-witted and entertaining opening sequence of song and dance, the two iconic characters — portrayed by Lindsay Heather Pearce and Iain Young, respectively — transported the theater to a place much too scary to be explored alone: high school in 2004.
The North American tour of “Mean Girls” has been running since 2018, with the exception of a brief but necessary pause during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Written by an award-winning team including Tina Fey of “30 Rock” and lyricist Nell Benjamin of “Legally Blonde,” the show received immense support from its viewers. This includes an average show score of an impressive 83 percent and positive feedback from the likes of USA Today and New York Magazine.
The musical serves as a hard-hitting adaptation of the American teen comedy film of the same title directed by Mark Waters and written by Tina Fey. Set in a Chicago suburb, the show opens with the introduction of a young home-taught student from Kenya, Cady Heron.
Following her move across the world, Cady is met with a problem reflected in the lives of most teens entering public school: making friends. With the help of wacky duo Janice and Damian, Cady is thrust into the wild environment of North Shore High School. It isn’t long until she is taken under the wing of an A-list clique known as The Plastics. When she falls for the ex-boyfriend of Plastics alpha Regina George, a snowball of social destruction (and reconstruction) takes form.
From the very beginning of the show, it was quite obvious that the cast and production team had worked tirelessly to perfect its remarkable scene design. The lead cast members and the ensemble alike navigated a number of complicated props expertly, rolling across the stage on high school desks and tall bathroom stalls with comfort and precision. Each scenic transition involved quick outfit changes on the part of every cast member. This feat was most impressive during Janis’ introduction of Cady to a lunch room full of jocks, nerds and “sexually active band geeks,” wherein ensemble members switched costumes covertly before the audience. The choreography and use of props were mesmerizing, proving the enlisted talent to be one-of-a-kind.
On top of this, the production had notably undergone a sharp casting shift that evening. Distinctly, the role of hyper, “too-gay-to-function” student Damian was taken up by understudy Iain Young. The young actor made the role his own and entranced the crowd with his dance and swing expertise from his time on Broadway’s “Newsies.”
Over the course of the two-and-a-half hour production, the ensemble made their mark on the Madison stage. With killer vocal chops and incredible dance skills, all 23 cast members carried out an impressive show.
The ensemble was so strong it wouldn’t be surprising if they could each fill any lead role of the musical if necessary and create just as stunning of a show. Particularly, spunky actress English Bernhardt, part of the ensemble for the pre-COVID run of the show, has since moved up to the lead role of Cady Heron.
However, the cast’s near-perfect presentation onstage cannot quite compensate for the issues with the production’s script. The use of minorly outdated jabs at teen social media and phone use took hold at various stages of the plot. Although a well-meaning attempt toward modernizing the 2004 show concept, a few punchlines missed the mark. Consequently, the dialogue took on a Boomer-esque essence that we get enough of from Regina George’s “cool mom.” If Broadway’s take on “Mean Girls” is aiming to entertain younger audiences, they are likely best suited to make a few minor updates with the help of younger writers.
Overall, “Mean Girls” enchanted Madison’s broad range of audience members. Their use of props, witty punchlines, hard-hitting ballads and impressive set design proved them worthy of the Broadway title and a spot at Madison’s lunch table.