Mean Girls the film was released in 2004. I’ll give you a minute to recover from that not-so-gentle reminder. Some of us were still in our 20’s thirteen years ago. The movie is a woman! “Yes, it finally got its period,” Tina Fey told us.
Mean Girls the musical opens at National Theatre today. The thirteen year difference in productions mean some casual updating had to occur. So for those of you who are showing up for that sweet 3-way calling scene on the landline, sorry! That had to go.
The musical is going to incorporate more modern ways girls can be mean to each other. And what’s crueler than social media? Not much. “We asked a bunch of teenagers what is the meanest social media platform out there and they all said Snapchat,” said the show’s writer Tina Fey.
The musical, unlike the movie, doesn’t necessarily have to stand the test of time so they were able to be more specific to the time it takes place. “When I wrote the movie I wanted it to be an evergreen thing,” said Fey. “That’s why we made up the word fetch so the film could never feel dated.” In revisiting this story Fey was reminded of what she was actually like in high school. “It turns out I was actually the terrifying one. People were afraid of me.”
I wouldn’t say the film feels dated but I took a walk down memory lane with its soundtrack because I was dying to know if hits like “Milkshake” (did those boys ever get to the yard?) were going to inform the musical’s score? “Yes, but I was also informed by the composer who scored the movie,” said the musical’s composer Jeff Richmond. “Rolfe Kent, the original film composer, did not seem to care that it was a movie about girls in high school. It has a lot of primitive swelling screeching laughing. It’s very tribal. It made me think if we did the musical I didn’t want to pin myself into voicing all the music so it sounds like girls in high school.” Which is great because while Jeff and I both like Katy Perry he said he wanted to stay away from that super poppy feel. And why not? When I was in high school I was listening to Peter Gabriel. Because a portion of the musical starts in Africa the music was able to focus on artists who were influenced by it. People like Peter Gabriel! Or so I was told. It sounds like the music drew from a particular era, like the 70’s or 80’s. “When you’re my age, instead of chasing pop music what you end up chasing is rock because it’s a little more eternal than bubble gummy pop stuff,” said Richmond. “The spine of the show has more of a rock n’ roll influence to it with a shimmer of musical theater coming in and out and some Graceland and Paul Simon here and there because it is a story that starts in Africa. And you will not be disappointed in the Peter Gabrielness of it,” Richmond said. There’s that feeling again, not wanting to feel dated, music that is eternal. It’s important to not get trapped in one specific place or time.
In 2004 The Plastics were the height of fashion with form-fitting dresses and 4-inch heels. That can’t be easy for a choreographer to work with. Hell, I can’t even walk in 4-inch heels much less dance. “We’ve already had some girls saying ‘Um, I’m not going to be able to do those steps in these shoes,'” director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw told us. They definitely had to make some adjustments. Let’s just say a lot of breaks were taken. If you’re wondering what the music for Mean Girls could possibly sound like I don’t think you’ll be worried about it not properly conveying the heart of the film. “There’s a number called Apex Predator that I love,” said Nicholaw. Apex Predator is a great name for your first born. Everyone gets to sing. If you’re having trouble picturing Janice belting out a tune you won’t have to. “All the characters get to sing so it’s fun trying to figure out how Janice would sound or how Damian would sing,” Nicholaw says. If there’s an actual mean dance move this musical will find it. I just assumed the meanest dance move is the middle finger. “There is a middle finger!” said Nicholaw. Well how about that.
Finding the voice of these characters and putting that voice to lyrics is no small feat. The show’s lyricist Nell Benjamin approaches her lyric-writing the way an editor approaches a film. “I like to hear people talk and the way they say things and the language they use becomes very important because you’re like ‘Oh that’s something Regina would say or that’s something Janice would say,’ and then you hold onto it and think ‘Is that something she would say right now? Yeah let’s try it.” And while the show is called Mean Girls, it’s much more than the sum of its cruelty. “The fun thing about the show is it’s not so much about the meanness because if they were just inhuman you wouldn’t want to spend two hours with them,” said Benjamin. “They’re just delightful and it’s about not yielding to the dark side.”Speaking of dark sides, D.C. is a great place to kick off the show! We’re like the Mean Girls of America right now.
In the spirit of the show I asked its four creators one very important last question: Can I sit at your lunch table?
Casey Nicholaw: “You can’t sit with us! I had to say the line.”
Nell Benjamin: “You can sit with me. Absolutely. I have a very eclectic lunch table so all are welcome.”
Jeff Richmond: “Of course you can sit with us.”
Tina Fey: “Oh yes.”