Not only is it graduation season but it’s also a time when many reunion committees are gearing up for their first in-person high school get-togethers since COVID derailed plans a two summers ago.
Whether you’re in this year’s class or you graduated decades ago, chances are the feelings engendered by your high school experiences may be both painful and nostalgic. If so, you’re definitely not alone!
It’s the ideal time to see “Mean Girls,” the Broadway show headed for the Schuster Center May 31-June 5. The high-energy production is a musical version of Tina Fey’s 2004 film based on the non-fiction book, “Queen Bees and Wannabees.” The parental guide deals with aggressive teen behavior, bullying and the ways in which teenagers form cliques. Author Rosalind Wiseman offers advice on the ways to deal with all of it.
Those same themes are explored in the musical through a comic lens. The story centers on Cady Heron, who moves to a Chicago suburb after living with her zoologist parents in Africa for years. Cady, who’s always been home-schooled, faces a much different life at her new large public high school where she must learn to navigate and adjust to a new social hierarchy.
If you’ve seen the movie, the characters will be familiar. Among them are The Plastics, a trio of popular gals led by the vicious and calculating Regina George. When Cady devises a plan to end Regina’s reign, she learns that you can’t cross a Queen Bee without getting stung. “Mean Girl”' takes a look at friendships—and human nature.
Tina Fey, who wrote and appeared in the movie which starred Lindsay Lohan, is also responsible for turning “Mean GIrls” into a musical. Fey was involved in every step of the show’s development. The music is by her husband, Jeff Richmond, lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominee Nell Benjamin. Tony-Award winner Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed the production. Rest assured that the script does contain some of the most famous lines from the film (“That is so fetch!”) but it’s also been updated to reflect today’s lingo and bring it into a world replete with smartphones and social media.
Ohio actor in the touring cast
“My youngest sister is a senior in high school so ‘Mean Girls’ can hit close to home,” says Mary Beth Donahoe, who grew up in Lakewood, Ohio near Cleveland and attended Ohio Northern University. She’s now a member of the touring company that will come to Dayton. In addition to being part of the high-energy singing and dancing ensemble, Donahoe is also the understudy for three of the principal roles including Cady, the main character; Gretchen; two of the moms and the math teacher.
Although the musical tackles some serious themes–life can be tough when you’re trying to fit in and find out who your real friends are– Donahoe says it’s basically funny and light-hearted. “The positive message is that if you can respect people for who they are and show them grace and dignity. That’s how we can move forward and find success and love for one another in this world.”
Donahoe, whose own high school reunion had been scheduled for 2020 and canceled because of the pandemic, says there were times in rehearsal that someone would recite a line that triggered painful high school memories for her. “It felt like a big deal then and I remember I was upset at the time but years later I realized it was my friends that really mattered,” she says.
There are moments in the show, she adds, when it’s obvious that even the Queen Bee has vulnerable moments.
Donahoe’s mother signed her up for soccer camp when she was young but it wasn’t a good fit. “So we opted for tap dancing instead and it clicked immediately!” she remembers. “I’ve been performing ever since then and my mom would tell you I was performing since I could talk. Fortunately our public schools had great performing arts programs and in high school I was in three shows every year as well as the dance line for marching band.”
Her grandparents, who were always telling stories, inspired her love of having human interaction with other people and telling a good tale. “Making people laugh, passing time together, it all clicks for me,” says Donahoe. " People will tell you I’m boisterous, loud and over the top and having a place to do all that is a great outlet. Creating connections with audiences and people on stage with you –those are the things I missed during the pandemic.”
Donahoe, who lives in New York, learned how to “do tour life” when she did her first national tour with “Beauty and the Beast.” “It was so much fun but you have to learn how to pack lightly, find healthy food on the road and take care of your body so you can perform eight shows a week.”
One of her favorite numbers in “Mean Girls” comes at the end of Act One. “It’s a pivotal moment in the show when we see the high school tipped on its end because Cady, the new girl, is suddenly the popular girl in school. It’s a huge dance number–exhausting but a lot of fun!”
“Mean Girls,” she believes, is relatable to a wide audience. “High school kids like it and the rest of us reminisce about the high school moments that we had. It’s ageless because everyone has gone through this experience, and everyone will find some character they can relate to on stage.”
Donahoe was able to channel her own high school days when “Mean Girls” played Cleveland for three weeks. “Performing on stage at Playhouse Square had been a dream of mine since I was four years old and saw a show there,” she says. " My dance teachers came, my high school and choir teachers all came. It was a testament to their work and their commitment to their students.”
HOW TO GO
What: “Mean Girls” the Musical, presented by Premiere Health Broadway in Dayton When: Tuesday, May 31 through Sunday, June 5
Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second Street, Dayton
Age recommendation: 10 and up.
Tickets: $29-$125. Call (937) 228-3630 or visit DaytonLive.org.
Accessibility: The Saturday matinee performance will be sign interpreted and/or audio described upon request. Please let the ticket agent know at least two weeks before the performance if you would like either of these services when you order your tickets.
- A “Mean Girls” Broadway after-school intensive for students in grades 8-12 interested in musical theater is slated for 4:30-8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31 through Saturday, June 4. Participants will work with theater professionals, artists and members of the “Mean GIrls” cast when possible. Previous experience is not required and the $249 fee includes show merchandise, dinner each night and a ticket to the Thursday night performance. Scholarships are available. Students can register for the MEAN GIRLS After School Intensive here: daytonlive.org/after-school-intensive-mean-girls
- Background on Broadway: 60 minutes before each performance of “Mean GIrls” you can learn about the development, history and artistry of the show. The free event is held in the Schuster Center’s Fourth Floor Lobby. You must present a ticket to that day’s performance.
- FOR MORE INFORMATION: daytonlive.org/mean-girls