Lights, camera, plastics: A critique of “Mean Girls” film reboot and its Broadway roots

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Feys’ new Mean Girls film reboot has sparked following the success of the original film’s Broadway adaptation, Mean Girls The Musical. The new musical Mean Girls released in January 2024 has certified its title as the newest musical phenomenon and is taking the minds of every film fan and theater lover by storm. - Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon

Twenty years after the debut of the iconic teen comedy Mean Girls, where “The Plastics” graced our television screens and encapsulated us in the early 2000s fashion era, the beloved characters are back. They are now placed in modern-day society, to be displayed to a new generation of fans. Following years of history, adapting a sequel to this cult classic is an immense challenge that writer Tina Fey had to take on. Feys’ new Mean Girls film follows the success of the original film’s Broadway adaptation, Mean Girls the Musical. The newest iteration, released in January 2024, has become the newest musical phenomenon and is taking fans by storm. 

While cozying up in my reclining seat eating buttered popcorn, I watched as the lights dimmed and Janis and Damien’s characters popped onto the large screen. I was immediately filled with excitement as I realized the new Mean Girls film was largely based on the Broadway version. I desperately wished to have seen Mean Girls on Broadway, however, the pandemic hit, and the show closed. The ability of this new film to bring each viewer a similar experience to the original Broadway adaptation is an incredible opportunity for those who missed the show. 

Though the film was based extensively on the Broadway production, some of the Broadway cast members, musical numbers, and lines were left out of the script. One major cast member who was changed was the film’s lead protagonist Cady Heron. Heron’s main storyline in the original film, compared to the Broadway adaptation and new film, is all based on the original plotline. However, the emotional connection demonstrated by each individual who interpreted Heron showcased their true devotion to their roles in abstract ways. In the musicals, this quirky character was portrayed by Broadway actress Erika Henningsen, and in this new film, the actress who took upon this role was Angourie Rice. 

When watching Henningsens’ performance in the musical number “Stupid With Love,” it was clear that the movie adaptation was unable to bring the Broadway version to life. The orchestra in the back of the number was cut out of the movie, as well as the backing vocals and Rice’s comedic timing was off. This scene is Cady in math class with her crush Aaron Samuels, played by Christopher Briney. She’s meant to be nervous and dorky, however, Rice in my opinion failed to fully fulfill Heron’s true offbeat persona. Her love interest Aaron is forgettable because he doesn’t sing and has fewer lines than most characters. I found the first movie’s Aaron to be more humorous and lighthearted. 

In the math scene, I enjoyed the original Broadway lines that tied to Cady’s past in Kenya, as well as her awkward conversations in the song with Aaron, things that are missing in the movie version. The overall strength in voice, facial expressions, and passion Henningson showcased was unmatched. I truly wish that in the film Heron’s Broadway emotion was fully manifested. The song at the beginning of the Broadway original “It Roars” was cut in this film due to Rice’s vocal range. I enjoyed this song more than the new song “What Ifs” because of its upbeat nature and theatrical sound. I do want to compliment the cinematography in the “What Ifs” number as it was visually pleasing to watch.  

Though Heron’s Broadway actress did not take upon her role in the film, head plastic Regina George’s Broadway actress Renee Rapp left the stage and hit the theaters. Rapps’ emotional connection to her character was shown, as she did Rachel McAdams (who played Regina George in the original movie) justice by mimicking her tone and expressions. I was impressed by Rapps’ ability to dive deeper into who she was portraying and have fun with her lines. My favorite musical number was Rapps’ song “Someone Gets Hurt,” where she played into George’s manipulative personality by fake crying on the spot to dramatically get Aaron’s attention and him back. Rapp is a phenomenal performer, and she blew me away. I believe she is setting her mark on the scene as the hottest new actress and we’ll be seeing more of her in the future. If you need one reason to watch Mean Girls, it’s for Rapps’ fabulous and hilarious portrayal of George. 

When there is Regina, there is always Gretchen and Karen by her side. I found Anantika Vandanapu as Karen and Bebe Wood as Gretchen comical and enjoyed their classic lines brought back. Both plastics in the new film were cast similarly to Cady without being a part of the Broadway production. I believe that changing the Broadway cast for these characters was not as fundamental as changing Heron due to them having fewer musical numbers and their vocal ranges not affecting their songs. I loved the Halloween scenes with the characters as well as the musical number “Sexy” Karen sings. By basing this film now in the modern day, incorporated in some scenes with “The Plastics” are social media apps such as TikTok. I understand that the film was trying to appeal to younger audiences however I believe their incorporation of TikTok dances was a bit cringeworthy at times and could’ve been left out. 

My favorite character from the original film, Janis Ian who takes Cady under her wing when entering high school is portrayed in this film by Auli’i Cravalho. I found her to be a great casting idea. I have always loved the original song from the musical “I’d Rather Be Me” and I appreciated her rendition of it. Janis’ best friend Damien is played by Jaquel Spivey and he truly was the best comedic relief in some of my less favorite songs such as “Revenge Party.” In the Broadway adaptation, Damien had his song and I do wish they gave him more camera time and I wish we saw even more of him. When performing together, the pair did work well together and I believe they did the original duo great justice. 

The new wardrobe worn by each character was well put together and the mission was to stand out from its renowned forerunner by costume designer Tom Broecker who also styled the wardrobe in Mean Girls 2004. I believe that Broecker did an impressive job adding personality to each character’s looks and modernizing them. I loved the switch from Regina’s iconic mini skirt to her being seen in an all-black leather jacket and pant set. I believe that this outfit sets her apart from the rest of her schoolmates and showcases her power. I enjoyed that the stylist kept The Plastics in mini skirts, almost to show they are still following in Regina’s footsteps and haven’t fully evolved into a new look yet.

From the perspective of the Mean Girls Broadway musical lover, I do wish that this film could have fully shown the entire Broadway show from a film perspective. I do believe that this most likely could have been done because this film was rather short with a run time of only less than 2 hours and the Broadway adaptation was only about thirty minutes more. Though I wished that the film could have made minor changes to satisfy my love of the original musical, I do recommend every Mean Girls and musical fanatic to see this film. 

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