The spring theater season has officially begun, and a slew of highly anticipated musicals and plays, both brand new and revisited, are set to bow. Broadway.com's Spring Preview series captures the stars bringing these stories center stage in the new season.
Whether you've seen the movie or not, you've heard of Mean Girls, Tina Fey's 2004 teen comedy about a high school newcomer's clash with the queen bees who rule the halls. After solidifying her reign with Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fey has teamed up with her husband, composer Jeff Richmond, and lyricist Nell Benjamin to give Mean Girls the Great White Way treatment, and bring the three outsiders at the heart of the story center stage.
To be sure, fans of the fetch film know and love Regina George and her Plastics, the glossy, gorgeous, delightfully evil girls who command North Shore High School. Nevertheless, at the emotional core of this story are its outcast characters: Cady Heron, Damian Hubbard and Janis Sarkisian. Erika Henningsen, Grey Henson and Barrett Wilbert Weed are the young talents bringing them to sparkling, Casey Nicholaw-directed life this spring at the August Wilson Theatre.
Before they studied up on their movie counterparts, these young actors were super fans. “I remember watching the DVD on repeat,” says Henson. “It was one of the first times that I had seen a gay character that was my age. For Damian to be so confident and funny—that was really exciting.”
Fey’s source material for the movie was Queen Bees and Wannabees, Rosalind Wiseman’s bestselling non-fiction exploration of the intricacies of adolescent relationships: cliques, gossip, bullying, you name it. Although Mean Girls is, of course, a comedy, the underlying themes can hit hard. “A lot of the times, what girls go through when they’re growing up gets minimized,” Weed says. “Mean Girls marked the first time I saw teenage female aggression articulated well and with importance.”
“'Mean Girls' marked the first time I saw teenage female aggression articulated well and with importance.”
“The movie’s message is that when females undermine one another, it gives others permission to do the same,” Henningsen says. “Tina’s built upon that in this show. If you’re being nice at the risk of diminishing yourself, then what are you really accomplishing? Kind and strong don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” Henson agrees the message is clear: “It’s about not being a dick."
“It’s one of those movies that you watch and see little pieces of yourself in all of the characters: the good, the bad and the ugly,” Henningsen says. They may have seen themselves mirrored in the story, but these actors weren’t exactly outcasts when they were teenagers. Henson, for example, was crowned both Homecoming and Prom King in high school (“I’m not trying to be humble. I really was shocked when it happened!”). Even so, being popular was not highly valued to these three during their time in high school.
“Cool to me always felt like a lot of work,” Henningsen says. “I was much happier in the way that Cady is—with being a good student. I was a rule-abider, and I was really close with my family. Plus, I had theater, and that was where I felt cool.” As Cady, Henningsen gets to tap into both her nice girl side and the opposite: “I get to reach the other end of the spectrum, where Cady becomes a total mean girl because she doesn’t realize that her actions are catching up with her.”
Henningsen also got a taste of being the outsider in the rehearsal room, but no, there wasn’t a Burn Book making the rounds. “Barrett and Grey were involved with the project a little earlier than I was. Before we started rehearsals for D.C., we went out for sushi and margs,” she says. “I felt like Cady [in that] they sort of knew the ropes already. That was a total art imitating life moment.”
“If you’re being nice at the risk of diminishing yourself, then what are you really accomplishing?”
"There was never any sort of weirdness, just three people genuinely enjoying each other’s presence," Henson says of uniting with Henningsen and Weed. "We talked about our lives for the next year or so at that dinner.” From the eagerly anticipated casting announcement to the well-received Washington, D.C. run to a forthcoming Broadway bow, it's already been quite a year for these three.
Now, as Mean Girls resurfaces in splashy musical form, Henningsen, Henson and Weed are the epitome of rising popularity in Broadway's inner circle: young talents reinventing three beloved characters in a new musical with a built-in fan base. “When I heard that they were making Mean Girls into a musical, I immediately said, 'That’s my part. I want to play Janis so badly.” Weed says. “And I wanted to hang out with Tina Fey!” What’s cooler than that?
"Mean Girls" begins on March 12 and opens April 8 at the August Wilson Theatre
Photos: Emilio Madrid-Kuser | Styling: Heather Newberger | Hair: Austin Thornbrook | Makeup: Meghan Lanoux