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Broadway SF’s ‘Mean Girls’ raunchily reworks cliquey cult classic

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Senior Staff

FEBRUARY 08, 2023

Broadway SF is known for its high production value, and this Bay Area revival of the Broadway original “Mean Girls” is just, like, so fetch. The original 2018 production was shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with a book by Tina Fey and a new management team at the Golden Gate Theatre, the show stays true to the original film’s message about navigating the jungle of American high schools.

Peppy and naive Cady Heron (English Berndhardt) has lived in Africa all her life, and, as a result, is intimately knowledgeable about the dynamics of the savannah — but not so much about the intricacies of American high school life. Upon entering public high school for the first time, she is guided by artsy outcasts Janis (Adriana Scalice, understudy for Lindsay Heather Pierce) and Damian (Eric Huffman) to find her place — and maybe wreak some social havoc. 

“Mean Girls” deftly leverages the breaking of the fourth wall for narrators Janis and Damian, who speak to the audience as if they are at freshman orientation. In this way, the production is framed as a fable — or a “Cautionary Tale,” according to the opening music number — about the follies of peer pressure and how popularity contests and cliques stand in the way of modern female friendships. 

The show features many large singing and dancing numbers, drawing both from old Broadway choreography and newer musical arrangements. “It Roars” and “Where Do You Belong” allow vocal powerhouses Scalice and Huffman to shine in several amazing harmonies. The skill of the ensemble’s dancing and prop usage — including a montage of Cady’s first experiences in high school classes, emblematic of the movie — are brilliantly displayed; the use of rolling desks grants homage to the film while putting classic musical spins to freshen up the performance.

“Meet the Plastics” introduces the audience to the queens of North Shore High: airheaded Karen Smith (Megan Grosso, understudy for Morgan Ashley Bryant), high-strung Gretchen Wieners (Mary Beth Donahoe, understudy for Jasmine Rogers) and devastating diva Regina George (Nadina Hassan). 

Rolled out on their throne — a special cafeteria table — the Plastics each get a chance to brandish their skills and insecurities. Each character is most definitely a caricature of culture’s classic “popular girl” stereotype, in addition to being caricatures of the film’s characters. As each plastic gets her solo, their singing, dancing and acting are consistent with their characterization — Grosso in particular stands out with her over-enunciation of syllables and never-ending smiles. 

The musical’s book retains several iconic moments from the original film — such as the scene in which Regina notices new girl Cady for the first time — while still giving its stars enough room to make the characters their own. Hassan, for instance, is a stellar Regina George. She speaks languidly yet powerfully, with a Valley Girl-esque intonation that emphasizes Regina’s social status. 

Bernhardt, Hassan’s counterpoint, must also be commended. Throughout the play, her demeanor skillfully progresses to display Cady’s transition from girl fresh out of Africa to high school normie to proper plastic. 

Musical solos and small plot changes breathe new life into “Mean Girls.” Gretchen’s solo “What’s Wrong with Me?,” performed after upsetting Regina, provides new insight into the psyche of the beta Plastic. Donahoe’s mezzo belts sparkles as she delineates the emotional pressure of striving to support Regina without getting any support back. With lines chock-full of comedy, Donahoe still successfully delivers strained sadness, bringing a new perspective to the character of Gretchen. 

Similarly, Grosso’s song about Halloween, “Sexy,” is hilariously in-tune with the character of Karen. Aided by her long blonde locks and ability to perform charismatic idiocy, Grosso’s showing is stellar not only because of her vocals or dancing, but because of her acting chops. Karen is brought to life in a way that rivals Amanda Seyfried’s original film performance due to Grosso’s optimistic and reliably bubbly demeanor — and the occasional brilliant fourth-wall-breaking one-liner. 

Throughout these scenes, a little extra oomph is added by the theater’s digital backdrop. While the original film was set in the early 2000s, the musical occurs in 2019, and appropriately incorporates elements of social media that bring a more realistic edge to the plot. For instance, Regina’s social downfall is cemented by Tweets, Snapchats, Instagram posts and a viral image of her butt post-weight gain. These images are circulated on the digital backdrop, reviving the theater for modern audiences. 

Unfortunately, the pacing felt inconsistent — Cady’s character development is sped up for the sake of time, while Regina’s downfall feels slowed down and reads a bit odd for a play — and the musical ends with a saccharine scene that feels a little too perfect. But the musical is extremely enjoyable both for those who have and have not seen the “Mean Girls” movie because of its new wave humor and delightful cast (wait until you hear Bernhardt hit a high note). 

With breakdancing swinging scenes, layered vocals, a stunning backdrop and a clever throughline comparing the feminine high school experience to the wild, Broadway SF’s production of “Mean Girls” succeeds in asserting its independence from the original film. Audiences will find comfort in familiar lines such as “She doesn’t even go here” and plenty of surprises — have you wondered how two people could copulate in a mascot suit? — in this lively production that viewers absolutely should wear pink to watch.

“Mean Girls” will be performed at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco until February 26.

Contact Katherine Shok at  or on Twitter


FEBRUARY 08, 2023