DETROIT – “That’s so fetch,” exclaims Gretchen Wieners, trying to make fetch the latest trend. Almost 20 years later, fetch never truly caught on, but Tina Fey’s gut-chuckling comedy about a girl from Africa learning to weave her way around American high school still resonates today and in some ways is improved with an updated storyline, catchy music and an energetic cast.
The movie is filled with some of modern-day pop culture’s most memorable quotes, and they all make their way to the musical in surprising ways. But this isn’t a by-the-book recreation of the movie. Fey and the creative team had to expand a 90-minute movie into a two-and-a-half-hour musical, no easy feat. And with turning any beloved movie into a Broadway hit, the challenge is how to turn something so iconic into its own without betraying the source material.
Luckily, Fey is behind the slick comedy of the show’s book with her husband, Jeff Richmond, at the helm for music, adding pop-tinged songs filled with wisecracks and wit written by Nell Benjamin. The show benefits from an expanded run-time giving secondary characters a larger role and provides a better backstory to explain how The Plastics become so, well, mean.
Ann Arbor native and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s niece, Nadina Hassan, plays a deliciously evil Regina George. Regina, as North Shore High’s queen bee, has some of the most difficult songs in the show to sing and Hassan handles the role with fierce intensity.
Straight out of playing Elphaba on Broadway eight times a week, Lindsay Heather Pearce is a joy as the misunderstood Janis. Pearce was born to play this character with her spunk and effortless comedic timing. Her Broadway-shattering vocals are on full display with her showstopping final solo, “I’d Rather Be Me,” which might explain why former Elphabas have been taking the reigns as Janis.
Leading the cast as protagonist Cady Heron is English Bernhardt, the tour’s original Cady standby, who was just recently promoted to Cady full-time. Bernhardt has also taken the stage as Janis and Regina, so this is someone who knows the role inside-out and expertly navigates her relationships with the characters. Bernhardt is a beast in this role with multiple costume changes (including an on-stage quick change), solos and duets. Rarely is she ever off-stage. Every night is a marathon for Bernhardt, but you would never know with her stunning smile and vocal prowess. She is a professional.
Eric Huffman owns the stage as the “too gay to function” Damian Hubbard. Huffman, who has been with the show since the tour’s launch in 2019, brings the house down with his zany one-liners, tap dancing and poses. Pearce and Huffman share an incredibly fun chemistry, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t IRL BFFs.
Scott Pask’s scenic design services the story, but the screens can get distracting. It’s a tool used to quickly change sets which makes sense for the show’s breakneck pace, but the over reliance on it sometimes verges on the edge of tacky. The visuals work best when Finn Ross’ video designs are in tandem with real set pieces, but when the screens are the set, it’s hard to unsee that the stage is sometimes pretty bare.
A standout of the production is the ensemble, a troupe of high-energy singers and dancers, many who play multiple roles. With choreography from Tony Award-winning director Casey Nicholaw, the ensemble jumps, taps and even twerks their way through each number with sheer joy. Nicholaw choreography is notoriously difficult. To tour with this level of dance acumen requires incredible athletic stamina, to which this ensemble succeeds.
If you’re a fan of the movie or just a Tina Fey fan in general, you will fall in love with this new version of the story. Fey’s comedy takes center stage here and the cast’s on-beat comedic timing and delivery expertly handles the material. Mean Girls is a non-stop laugh out loud, heartwarming comedy triumph that might even be funnier than its predecessor.
Mean Girls is playing now through June 19th at the Fisher Theatre with a runtime of 2 hours 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. For showtimes and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.