Mean Girls on Broadway
by Mo Brady
A perfect ensemble is an enigma. On one hand, it should be comprised of distinct personalities who vary enough from each other to be realistic. Yet at the same, those distinct personalities should have a unified point of view for the principal characters to engage with. These opposing ideas must work in tandem in order for the ensemble to succeed.
The ensemble of the new musical Mean Girls finds this rare balance. Not only are each of the ensemble’s roles clearly defined, they also work together to propel the story forward. The eight women and six men who play students at North Shore High School all seem like real kids, each with unique opinions on the show’s proceedings.
Part of the reason these characters are so easily differentiated is their diversity in size and shape. There are tall girls and short girls, beefy guys and twig-thin guys, all of various ethnic backgrounds. (You know, like an actual high school.)
These 14 performers are featured throughout the show in a variety of successful ways. Similarly to the Mean Girls film, direct address commeratary on Regina George and Cady Heron is hilariously delivered by Devon Hadsell and Kamille Upshaw. Ben Cook and Nikhil Saboo are somehow simultaneously completely cool and extremely nerdy as Cady Heron’s mathlete teammates.
Casey Nicholaw’s high-octane choreography keeps the action moving and the audience engaged, especially when performed by skilled dancers like Brendon Stimson, Zurin Villanueva and Kevin Csolak. And the pop-fused score includes some thrilling belting by Jonalyn Saxer (who remarkably covers three leading roles of Cady Heron, Regina George and Karen Smith).
No musical has ever succeeded solely on its use of an ensemble. Yet, musical theatre’s most successful shows have all found ways to make the ensemble an integral part of the storytelling. The Mean Girls ensemble is reminiscent of the recently seen casts of Newsies or American Idiot. Not every actor has a name or spoken dialogue, but they each have a distinct point of view.
In a show that ultimately celebrates misfits, this concept is reflected in characters of the entire acting company. From Barrett Wilbert Weed’s thrilling interpretation of Janis down to Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette fierce performance as Dawn Schweitzer, this cast hits their marks completely. The show’s company proves that, as its final song suggests, they are all “Stars.”