I saw Mean Girls with my mum when I was 12. It was after I had seen it at a sleepover and she wanted to watch it with me again to answer any "questions." I was too young to be dealing with a Regina George of my own, but old enough to be too proud to ask her how "chlamydia" was actually spelled. I hadn't yet gotten to the social hierarchy of high school, but was already able to recognise Cady's initial feeling of inadequacy thanks to the girls in my grade who were discovering hair dye, straighteners, and Aeropostale before me.
I'd like to think this early exposure to Tina Fey's 2004 hit, inspired by the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, warded off the majority of the unhealthy social situations I managed to avoid, but it also facilitated a lot of the blame I used to place on my own gender whenever I did run into a snag. The girl my boyfriend cheated on me with is a "bitch." I hang out with boys because they're "less drama." Don't worry, "I'm not like other girls."
I'm glad I got to watch Mean Girls as a teen, but I'm even happier that teens now get Mean Girls: The Musical. Fey returned to write the screenplay for the production, which just opened on Broadway, and took everything we've learned in ten-plus years to give the story the update it needed. It's still, at its core, a story about how women treat each other, but takes the necessary step of zooming out and reminding audiences how this dynamic is facilitated by men.
Take Cady's internal monologue that occurs at the end of the film — the one about how calling someone stupid won't make you any smarter. In the musical, this line is handed to Ms. Norbury (Kerry Butler), who tacks on an additional "and we have to stop beating each other up over every little thing, 'cause meanwhile, men are running around grabbing butts and shooting everybody."
Or there's Karen, played by the show-stealing Kate Rockwell, who pops up in a song about making irrational choices to share an anecdote about how a nude photo she took when she was 13 was shared by the boy she sent it to and ended up on a porn site called AmateurTweens. It's here, however, that Karen pauses the song to add an important caveat: "someone should teach boys not to do that in the first place," going on to sing the line "'cause I'm actually a human being and not a prop."
It's not just these little moments. The show's evolved thesis emphasises how society's rigid gender roles force women into hurtful behaviour that, if done by a man, would actually be applauded. Janice, played by another stand-out Barrett Wilbert Weed, has a whole number about it. Her trust fall catharsis is transformed into an entire song about unfair expectations placed on women.
"We're supposed to all be ladies and be nurturing and care, but is it really fair? / Boys get to fight, we have to share," she begins. "Here's the way that that turns out: We always understand how to slap someone down with our underhand."
The show manages to do all this without being preachy. The last dig is delivered via one of the show's cleverer jokes.
"I know I have to change. I know I was harsh," Regina (Taylor Louderman) says to Cady (Erika Henningsen) in the one of the final scenes. "And people say I'm a bitch. But you know what they would call me if I was a boy?"
"Strong?" Cady offers.
"Reginald," she replies. Because this was written by Fey, after all.
Those who grew up with the original film will be pleased to know the musical maintains all the moments you hold dear — "You go, Glen Coco" is delivered with Rocky Horror-style bravado, and I audibly squealed when I saw Damien (Grey Henson) sunglassed-up to yell "She doesn't even go here!" — but has enough revision that you're proud to hand it over to the next generation. The set is fantastic, the choreography invigorating, the script impossibly funny and made somehow funnier by the actors' impeccable deliveries. Bring your mum, bring your sister, but bring your brother, too. 2018 Mean Girls is for everyone.
Mean Girls: The Musical is currently running in New York City at the August Wilson Theatre.
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