Mean Girls' National Tour is painting East Lansing in pink from March 1-6 at the Wharton Center. The show follows the premise of the 2004 classic movie, adding elements of theater and music to the show, enhancing the story for a new age.
Erica Simone Barnett is in the ensemble for the national tour at the young age of 19, performing through her first tour life after being in the famous Original Broadway Cast of “Matilda,” spearheading her career as a young Broadway actress. However, this show is a standout moment for her.
“I think it's definitely exciting,” Barnett said. ”I’m super grateful for this opportunity, especially at such a young age. I am in a show with a bunch of amazing human beings and amazing performers.”
Being out of her east coast bubble for the first time, Barnett said she is excited to be in a different city every week, learning so much and meeting so many new people.
However, unlike any other show Barnett has performed in, audience members come in with expectations of the show based on the movie, which adds pressure.
“I think that people come to Mean Girls with a certain expectation especially since this movie was created 22 years ago ... and I feel like every night we try to fill the expectation and go for even more,” Barnett said.
Barnett said that the stage version is the updated version of the movie, attacking plot points of the original differently and cracking jokes that are relevant to now instead of two decades ago. She also prides the show on making their jokes more sensitive to today and not being as problematic as some lines would have been in the early 2000s. Her favorite part is that the show adheres to theater lovers.
“I think live theater just offers a connection to the audience that makes it be more comfortable and open to receiving scenes of the show and the messages,” Barnett said.
Barnett is still a college student studying musical theater at the University of Michigan, working on her craft at the same time she is studying it. While she has taken a leave of absence for this tour, Barnett is not a stranger to juggling both schoolwork and performances, doing the same during middle and high school as well.
“It challenges you to learn how to take accountability and learn to take care of yourself,” Barnett said. “I also think that it opens up a whole new world of understanding.”
Barnett feels as though this makes the experience more fulfilling for her, even if it includes lots of hard work and tenacity. She said that this gave her perspective of what she wants from her Broadway experience and work environments at such a young age, being able to put herself in good companies and shows such as Mean Girls.
Barnett has found safety, love and comfortability in the company of Mean Girls, even with having different experiences from her castmates.
“Everybody I know that's older than me in the cast typically had their theater experience in classrooms," Barnett said. “Since I'm so young, my theater experience right now is right here while I’m working.”
With this journey as a young person, Barnett feels herself reflecting on old experiences — like high school — when performing in Mean Girls, which is centered around the life of young women in high school which can be potentially toxic and messy.
She also thinks it can relate to our college audience because the themes of the stories center around being yourself, which she found important in college. She said that learning to be your true self when meeting people and being in a completely new experience is so important, and leading with kindness is the best support system, as the musical highlights.
“Mean Girls has this great message of learning how to be empathetic and learning how to be extremely true to yourself,” Barnett said.
These messages start from the very beginning of the show, which Barnett said is her favorite. While her first entrance onto the stage is through the back of a zebra in the main character's opening number “It Roars,” it still means the world to her to be on the stage.
“My favorite part of the show is the very beginning of this show,” Barnett said. “I think it's a great introduction to the musical and I think it really sets the stage for what you’re about to see for the next two and a half hours. I think it's full of so much light, so much joy, and so much power. Honestly, I sit around all day just waiting to enter the stage.”
Entering with all her cast members in Mean Girls brings Barnett the most joy out of all of her Broadway experience so far.
The finale of Mean Girls also means a lot to Barnett, summing up the show and the message it relays to the audience with the song “I See Stars,” explaining how all girls should look out for each other and celebrate each other's beauty instead of tearing each other down.
“I think it's the perfect end to Mean Girls because it really talks about stepping into your own power and not letting it dim for anyone else no matter how much you want to fit in because as long as you are yourself, you can succeed,” Barnett said. “I think Mean Girls really promotes this message of your individuality and … embracing everybody for who they are and not changing for anyone else.”
See Barnett and all the other talented mean girls at the Wharton Center this week for a fill of high school drama and accessorizing with pink.
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