Monday, June 17, 2024

Up for review: Mean Girls at the Wharton compared to Broadway

March 3, 2022
<p>Entertainment reporter Liz Nass shares her thoughts on the Mean Girls performance. Courtesy/The Mean Girls Tour.</p>

Entertainment reporter Liz Nass shares her thoughts on the Mean Girls performance. Courtesy/The Mean Girls Tour.

Leaving my freshman year as a high school student in 2018, my mom and I took a trip to New York City to go to Broadway. We were shocked to see one of our favorite movies had been turned into a Broadway show and fought tooth and nail to get a ticket to see what Broadway had to offer this already classic story of high school drama and angst.

In the end, we were able to score some standing-room-only tickets and had the time of our life. From a musical standpoint, the show was perfect with insane performances and an even crazier score, mixing the perfect amount of orchestra, harmonies, and ensemble heavy music with standout characters. Seeing the original Broadway cast was a gift within itself, but it was the story that rang true with me as a high school student as well as my love for the art of musical theater.

Knowing that I was coming in to see a show I had already obsessed over for years, I was excited to see it again as well as analyze how it has changed over the years, and with a completely different cast. I also knew my perspective would change, coming to see the show as a now-college freshman instead of a high school freshman.

I ran into social relations and policy junior Ellie Friedman, a theatergoer herself, who had also seen the show before, right before the COVID shutdown and she held the same thoughts.

“Now that I’m out of high school, I can appreciate the saturation of the high school experience a little bit more, so seeing it as a senior in high school versus a sophomore in college is very different, but I enjoyed it just as much,” Friedman said.

However as the lights came up and the overture began, I got the same giddy feeling as I had in the August Wilson Theatre in New York. This show was just as amazing as I remembered.

The digital set that the show utilizes is already a spectacle on its own. It adds so much to the setting, allowing for a lot to be depicted digitally on the screens without having distracting set pieces. It is perfect for this modern retelling of this story in the digital age, changing not only their jokes to fit our time but the setting as well.

I think the most apparent superpower in the show is the music. Not the lyrics, but the score underneath it. The minute the pit started to play the overture to “A Cautionary Tale,” the opening number, Cobb Great Hall was filled with life, bringing power to the story immediately just through the immense sound of the music. I truly believe that in this show the music is what brings life to live theater. This pit is more than just talented, but the backbone of the music in this show. I can't give words to the music to do it justice, it has to be experienced.

However, the voices in this show are truly inspiring. The biggest standout to me is the harmonies in this show, not only with the ensemble but between characters in small groups. The most impressive harmonies for me were Janis and Cady in "Apex Predator," which was a standout song to some audience members, and the Janis and Damien in the opening number where they narrate exactly how much petty high school drama is highlighted in this show.

I also listen to the soundtrack often to this show, so I was surprised to hear some lyrics changed. The revival of one of my favorite songs “It Roars,” which explains how fearless Cady is moving from Africa to Illinois, was jarring at first, but then refreshing. It was interesting to see the tour company have its own take on it, but I think it speaks true to the message of keeping the story relevant and fresh for all audiences.

In general, the audience was full of laughs and excited to see all of the characters that they've seen on the big screen on the stage as brand new interpretations of what the characters could be.

Psychology senior Melanie Vandersluis had already heard the soundtrack a number of times as was excited to see her favorite character: Janis Sarkisian.

Played by Mary Kate Morrissey, Janis was a standout character to many people I talked to after the show and I think it was because she held her own attitude that wasn't seen in the movie. This Janis is much more Alanis Morissette and has her own personality to bring to the already iconic character, as well as an insane vocal range.

Damian Hubbard, played by Eric Huffman, was also a character that made audiences laugh, but was also blown away by his talent. Huffman both has a voice on him, as well as insane dance and acting chops, making him an immediate fan favorite.

My favorite character, however, who also had led the best musical number was Karen, played by Jonalyn Saxer. I recognized her immediately from the Broadway production of Mean Girls and knew she would be the perfect choice for this role, and she delivered. Many audience members already knew her famous song “Sexy” about dressing up sexually for Halloween and were excited to see this character perform it.

“I love the whole Halloween scene,” Friedman said. “Me and my roommate are always singing it and always quoting from it, so it's always special to see it performed.”

I think that Saxer was the shining star in an already star-studded group of performers. The only runner-up for character highlighting moments in the show other than “Sexy” was “World Burn” from Regina George, played by Nadina Hassan, which displays the true calculated evil of George and all other girls that get betrayed by their best friends in high school.

Personally, I also think that the Broadway show does a better job of depicting Cady's fall from being the kind person she was, showing how the toxicity of clique culture in high school and popularity can change people and their motives. I think that being able to touch on new things the original move never could like social media made the message that much more tangible.

My one gripe with the show was not with the show at all, but with the audience. I felt as though many of the people in the show idolized the repeat jokes from the movie, even taking a break to clap when Damien said the iconic line: “She doesn't even go here.” I feel as though many original jokes were put on the backburner for crowd-pleasing one-liners when I enjoyed the original content from the Broadway show more than the move repeats.

Whichever jokes the audience is laughing at, the main message of the show shone through anyways: build your sisters in solidarity up before anything else. Vandersluis was excited to see this story shown in a realistic sense.

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“I like that they’re touching on how mean girls are in high school because that’s very accurate,” Vandersluis said.

However, in the end with “I See Stars,” the message of love and loyalty is spread, proving that friendship above all is more important than the petty drama that infiltrates friend groups.

“Women empowerment and how as they say at the end knocking other people down doesn’t build you up,” audience member Willow Krupin said.

The show was just as good, if not better than it was on Broadway, proving that the Wharton yet again is my favorite place to see a show.

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