During the pandemic, Arts Angle Vantage (formerly Arts Bureau Edge) had to halt many activities as arts groups had fewer offerings and gathering with young people proved challenging. This youth arts journalism program was able to continue limited work virtually with its alumni but faced dilemmas connecting with new young arts enthusiasts, writers and journalists.
Finally, with PNC Broadway in Louisville’s recent run of the musical “Mean Girls,” Arts Angle Vantage offered its first workshop for newcomers in two years. (Over that time, we had organized limited activities with alumni.) Workshop participants, local high school students, reviewed the show. You can find their critiques below.
Arts Angle Vantage and the participants are grateful to PNC Broadway in Louisville and to LEO Weekly Arts & Entertainment Editor Erica Rucker and Editor Scott Recker, who practice the values of collaborative journalism and bring the community these young critics’ work. They help elevate youth voices and the arts.
— Melissa Chipman and Elizabeth Kramer
‘Mean Girls’ Proves Storytelling Takes More Than Acting, It Takes Musical Theater Magic
By Don’Tia Almon
Iroquois High School, Class of 2023
Back to freshman year we go on the opening night of PNC Broadway in Louisville’s “Mean Girls.” Last Tuesday, Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) and Damien (DeShawn Bowens) introduced the audience to North Shore High treating us as incoming freshmen. The energy these two characters gave showed their excitement to welcome new students but also caution them as they explained the school’s and its students’ imperfections.
“Mean Girls,” the musical that premiered on Broadway in 2018, came to Louisville and ran from March 22 to 27 at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Tina Fey wrote the book for the musical with music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin. Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed.
The musical’s early warning made an interesting introduction that differs from the film adaptation. But I truly didn’t get the hype about this musical until the beat dropped. The production used the power of musical theater to dig deeper than the film into the characters and capture the audience by the throat — thus proving some (namely mine) initial assumptions wrong.
At the story’s outset, Cady (Danielle Wade) is in her comfort zone of Kenya which is backed up by choreography. Dancers dressed as animals paint Cady’s life then, soon transitioning into the scene change not just physically, but situationally. Cady, now in the halls of a Chicago high school, has to deal with the attitudes and hormones of teenagers instead of the familiar feeling of only being around her parents and animals. Her level of comfort shifts as she interacts with types of people she’s never encountered before. It conjures the idea of teenage girls being predators and boys being pieces of meat. This is vividly shown in the choreography as a bunch of teens acting wild in the mall and Cady witnessing it all as an outsider learning her new surroundings.
In so much of “Mean Girls,” lyrics tell the story working with the music instead of the musical relying solely on dialogue. This is proven in many of the songs such as the opening number “A Cautionary Tale,” “Apex Predator,” and specifically the reprise of “What’s Wrong with Me?” In the latter, Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley) is spilling out how she truly feels about her manipulative ex-best friend Regina (Nadina Hassan). But during this reprise, Mrs. George (April Josephine) also has a story. Different from the movie, Mrs. George is the one to inform Regina of Cady’s betrayal. The realization hits the “cool mom” and causes her to practically retreat and think about what’s she’s doing so wrong that she doesn’t know what’s going on within her daughter’s life. The lyrics fit perfectly because they help magnify the horrible impact Regina has.
The digital set was a personal favorite, specifically during “World Burn” where we see Regina (Hassan) carrying out her revenge — scattering the pages across the school to cause chaos and paint Cady, Gretchen, and Karen as the villains. Not only do the lyrics tell the story but the set navigates us through Regina’s breaking point. We start with a solid background, fading into the images depicting the lies she attempts to feed everyone. We end up seeing red light and a fiery, apocalyptic background. The background and tech quite literally set the stage to show us what Regina was feeling in that moment — rage and vengeance.
I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about the dialogue, pondering if that was going to be the form of communication for the story. After seeing the full show, I am happy to retract that opinion. Not only did the cast and crew express the story through music but also through beautiful choreography — seen in “Where Do You Belong?” with the students expressing their social standing in school or in “Sexy,” where the girls inform us of the true meaning of Halloween through provocative movements. The terrific set designs drew me in, too. It all added up to make “Mean Girls” an amazing production that left me in awe.
Don’Tia Almon is a junior at Iroquois High School, where they lead the Harry Potter Club, and their classes include cinematography, guitar, and A2C English. They also founded a school-based group where lowerclassmen can get academic assistance and process their feelings and fears.
Musical Version of The Beloved Y2K Film ‘Mean Girls’ Gives Story Convincing Update
By Abigail Knoop
New Albany High School, Class of 2022
“Revenge Party” would be a pretty accurate way to set the mood when it comes to this show. A party. While I sat watching, I couldn’t help but smile because of how much fun the actors looked like they were having during the opening night of the PNC Broadway in Louisville’s production of Mean Girls last Tuesday.
As someone born in 2004, I can’t vouch for how accurate to the times “Mean Girls” the film was then. But as someone experiencing high school now, I can fully vouch for just how accurate this show with its book by Tina Fey, music by Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, is at portraying the experience.
“Mean Girls” the musical directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and based on the 2004 film, premiered on Broadway in 2018. It ran in Louisville from March 22 to 27. I was lucky enough to see it through Arts Angle Vantage, a youth arts journalism program.
I really felt like all the teenage girls (maybe even boys) saw a small piece of themselves in this show — whether they liked it or not. The set pieces before the show started that were displaying “burn book pages” were all incredibly recent insults and commentary. Such as one page that said, “0 followers.”
The creators took interesting approaches to modernize the show to appeal to their audiences. Whether it be small comments like the year being 2019, or the ensemble members wearing “Hamilton” shirts, I felt like it transported me to my own school halls.
But before I get into the plot, let me explain exactly how I saw it. I would have a completely different perspective if I had watched a bootleg of this show at home.
I got to see this with a group and my mom as my plus one. Which I would not have changed just because of how funny it was to see my mom react to some of the material!
Experiencing the crowd reactions play a big part in how I tend to feel about musicals. I love watching everyone around me react (sometimes laughing at them), and “Mean Girls” gave me a run for my money. I laughed at some jokes I wouldn’t have because everyone around me was laughing so hard.
I also came to this musical as a pretty big fan of the movie but skeptical. Usually, I’m not a big fan of movies being made into musicals. The makeover always changes the beloved movie way too much. But this transformation changed my mind.
While this wasn’t a sequel to the movie, I felt that it added an answer to every question the movie failed to develop and more. For instance, the character of Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) was a lot less shallow. In the original movie, her childhood spent in Africa almost felt like a joke. But the musical expands upon that with dialogue and songs including a scene in the second act with Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter). In this scene, Cady talks about missing Kenya and how weird it feels being in Chicago. I really felt like that was necessary for her character and I was happy to see that in the show. That was just one of the small changes that really improved the story.
My absolute favorite part of the show was the set pieces. They made “Mean Girls” one of the most visually impressive musicals I’ve ever seen. Electronic projections would change and move with the scenes. I was absolutely blown away by how quickly and how well the set would change — particularly the scene of the well-known auto accident.
The actors were absolutely in their own little worlds up on that stage and it was a blast to see. DeShawn Bowens, as Damian Hubbard, stood out. I was blown away that he was the understudy. He brought such an exciting energy to the character, and I couldn’t stop laughing when he was on stage. I can’t imagine liking the show as much as I did had he not been Damian.
The musical with its diverse cast also was a much more accurate reflection of contemporary life than the film. Several characters that were originally portrayed as white in the movie were people of color in this performance. And these characters weren’t created in token POC manner of casting. Nadina Hassan as Regina George brought a feisty and fresh energy to the character, and I loved that they didn’t focus on her being a person of color. The same goes for Carter’s portrayal of Aaron Samuels.
Seeing yourself on stage lies 100% within the casting. And when it comes back to seeing yourself on stage, I felt pretty seen by Janis Sarkisian’s (Mary Kate Morrissey) character. A particular song comes to mind, “I’d Rather Be Me” in the second act. It’s a song that I feel all girls in the audience can once again relate to, but as someone who has struggled to find my place in high school, it was almost relieving to watch a song being performed where a girl simply said to “Raise your right finger to how girls should behave!”
So, while I can’t vouch for 2004, seeing this show as a current high schooler was an amazing experience that was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Once you’re out of high school you can’t truly relate as much as you can in high school. Whether you’re a mean girl or you pretend you’re not, this show has plenty to teach you.
Abigail Knoop is a senior at New Albany High School, where she is a section editor for the school newspaper, The Blotter. She’s been in numerous productions through NAHS Theatre arts since 2018 and is planning to study elementary education and journalism at Indiana University Southeast in the fall.
‘Mean Girls’ Reveal the Insecurities Behind That High School ‘Girl Drama’
By Michelle Quan
duPont Manual High School, Class of 2023
High school cliques — we know all about them. The brattiness of it all. The fights. The drama. But most of all: the insecurities.
“Mean Girls,” the musical, based on Tina Fey’s homonymous 2004 classic film, follows new girl Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) trying to “find where she belongs.” That something would prove to be more animalistic than Cady’s life back in Kenya. When The Plastics, a trio including Regina George (Nadina Hassan), Gretchen Weiners (Megan Masako Haley) and Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer), recruit Cady, the “yassification” of the once-nerdy Cady into a “Mean Girl” commences.
Wade’s slips of awkward tics throughout her uber-confident performance transformed Cady into a realistic character most teenagers can relate to. But behind the pink miniskirts and heels, there’s something a little more drop-dead than gorgeous in North Shore High School. The girls lose themselves amid the passive-aggressive fights. It’s a battle the likes of a savanna hunt, an obvious metaphor that was made through the performance’s incredible use of visual technology for enchanting scene switches during the show’s run from March 22 through 27 at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
The star of the show had to be understudy DeShawn Bowens with his portrayal of the “too gay to function” Damian. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else as Damian when Bowens gave his all tap-dancing along to the lunch tray beats of the performance. While slightly less sarcastic than the movie’s character of Damian, the musical’s Damian takes the spot for most entertaining.
Gretchen, on the other hand, surprisingly takes the spot for most sympathetic when she asks herself, and indirectly asks Regina, how she can possibly fix herself in the heart-wrenching musical number “What’s Wrong with Me?” Haley projects Gretchen’s simultaneous admiration and competition with Regina through every voice inflection. I was not at all expecting such growth in Gretchen’s self-awareness and complexity from the movie’s cookie-cutter rich and pretty persona.
“‘Cause when you have less, you have more to lose,” Cady sings to Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter) in “More Is Better”.
This lyric alone among others by Nell Benjamin and set to music by Jeff Richmond exemplifies that mean girls oftentimes aren’t really mean girls. Women already struggle with power in this world; high school’s rigid social structure pits girls against each other to “have more.” Despite Hassan’s perfect amount of Regina-esque sass as she rose in the air and stood above everyone, Regina, too, has her own insecurities with beauty and power when she is dethroned by Cady’s and Janis’ plan. In the end, enemies Regina and Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) have something in common: being mean as a defense mechanism in the fight of femininity.
The vibrant sets. The unique mix of choreography by Casey Nicholaw, who also directs the show. The sorrowful singing. Topped off with sass and sparkles. The opening night performance of the musical “Mean Girls” gave just the right twist needed to underscore high schoolers’ insecurities and struggles with self-worth that arise from expectations of femininity, while also keeping the iconic lines that made “Mean Girls” the movie so memorable. It all made the performance definitely “fetch.”
Michelle Quan is a junior at DuPont Manual High School, where they are the social media director of Manual RedEye.
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