When the national touring production of Mean Girls opened at DPAC earlier this week, the lobby was buzzing about the fact that Raleigh native English Bernhardt would be covering the role of Janis Sarkisian. Bernhardt, who graduated Ravenscroft and studied at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory, made her Broadway debut in the national touring production of If/Then. She is now a standby for the leading roles of Janis, Cady Heron, and Regina George in Mean Girls.
Bernhardt, who seems better suited vocally for the role of Cady than Janis or Regina, proved she can don the grunge and heartily belt out a tune. More importantly, she seemed fully invested in the show and beamed from the love and support of her hometown crowd. Berhardt assumed the role of Cady Heron Wednesday night.
But as exciting as it is to witness a Triangle Rising Star take center stage in a big Broadway show, the national tour itself is a bit of a letdown. The young ensemble cast are undeniably talented, but were marred by some tinny acoustic problems opening night that made some of the pithy lyrics and one-liners hard to decipher. Danielle Wade as Cady seems neither credible nor relatable as a high school transfer student trying desperately to fit in. The Plastics posse, led by Mariah Rose Faith as Regina George, are more convincing (Faith’s voice is lit), rendering their characterizations a bit unsettling for the grownups in the room cognizant enough to read between their unresolved, cringey disclosures. Amidst the muddle of misbehavior and girl drama, the most solid, consistent, and well-grounded performance here comes from a man, Eric Huffman. His scene-stealing portrayal of Damian is quite debonair, and he is a bona fide triple threat.
The latter half of the show wallows in its moral message, a rallying cry for solidarity that feels disingenuous. Remarkably though, this audience didn’t seem to care. At the end, wide-eyed teenagers and die-hard fans of the movie sprung to their feet in submission, hypnotized by the hallucinogenic projections that clearly veil a vapid storyline.
Inspired by the 2004 movie of the same name, Mean Girls is the brainchild of Tina Fey. The show opened on Broadway in 2018 and was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best Book for Fey, Best Choreography and Direction for Casey Nicholaw, and Best Score for Nell Benjamin and Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond. Fey is undoubtedly a queen of comedy and Nicholaw is a Broadway kingpin. Together, it seems like Mean Girls could and should have been better. But Mean Girls has neither the cleverness of Book of Mormon nor the unruly heart of The Prom, which Nicholaw co-directed and directed respectively. This one is just brainless, bubblegum entertainment that banks on teenage angst and perpetuates stereotypes.