How Musical Theater Rejuvenated 'Mean Girls'
Pictured (L-R): Adante Carter (Aaron Samuels) and English Bernhardt (Cady Heron).
Adante Carter— who currently plays Aaron Samuels in the Mean Girls musical, North American tour— used to live in Los Angeles. As a student at the AMDA College of the Performing Arts, he was just around the corner from the Pantages Theatre.
“I'm actually currently staying in an Airbnb like a block away from my college dorm,” Carter says over a phone call with Los Angeles Confidential. “On my walk to the Pantages every day, I literally walk the path I took to get to college.” He also recalls getting whatever lottery seats were available at the theater.
“It’s truly a dream come true,” he says of performing Mean Girls at the Pantages. “My first time on stage, I actually teared up. I was really emotional… For me, performing at the Pantages is honestly more important than performing on Broadway because this is where the dream embarked and where it started and where the goal was set.”
As Aaron Samuels, Carter plays the musical version of the teen heartthrob in what was perhaps the best teen movie of the teen movie-saturated aughts.
Tina Fey’s 2004 Mean Girls stars Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) as a new transplant to suburban Illinois, where she and her scientist parents move to after living in Africa her whole life. At North Shore High, Cady learns quickly about the clique hierarchy thanks to her new friends Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), but she comes to learn nothing could have prepared her for dealing with teen mean queens, The Plastics, who are led by the ruthless Regina George (Regina George).
A pop culture phenomenon, Mean Girls is ideal to take from screen to the stage. With a book also by Fey, lyrics by Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde the musical) and music by Jeff Richmond (30 Rock), the millennial-loved story breathes new life into Cady’s junior year adventure. Fans of the movie will appreciate the call back to the original script’s most popular lines (“She doesn’t even go here!” “Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.”), but any fan of musical theater will have a good time with this high energy, good-hearted show revived for the social media age.
Mean Girls first hit the stage with its 2017 run at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. It later went on a national tour and hit Broadway, but was shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Now back in full swing, Mean Girls is making its way around the country again with notable stops across California. In Los Angeles, the show is at the Pantages until Jan. 29 and will then head to San Francisco and San Diego before finally coming to Costa Mesa for a run from March 3 to March 19 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Not only have the Pantages shows been a homecoming of sorts for Carter, but he describes the Los Angeles crowds as something special.
“The audiences have been so awesome here,” he says. “We love the energy in L.A.”
Pictured (L-R): English Bernhardt (Cady Heron), Jasmine Rogers (Gretchen Wieners), Nadina Hassan (Regina George), and Morgan Ashley Bryant (Karen Smith)
“The audiences have been just insane,” Nadina Hassan, who plays Regina George, agrees on a later phone call. “The sheer screaming that is happening is giving us so much life on stage.”
From Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hassan earned her music theater degree from Baldwin Wallace University and counts roles in regional shows of West Side Story, Tick, Tick… Boom!, Hair and more among her credits. Just as Mean Girls marks her first national tour, her portrayal of Regina marks the musical’s first woman of color to play the queen bee.
What’s more, all of The Plastics—herself, Jasmine Roger’s Gretchen Wieners and Morgan Ashley Bryant’s Karen Smith— are women of color.
“It is so incredibly important, and Morgan and Jasmine and I don't take that lightly at all,” Hassan says. “The standards of beauty [when the movie came out in 2004] were very white centric. And I think it is really cool and empowering for people to see women of color in powerful roles and front and center, and also the comedic roles…and different body types and everything. It's not set in stone exactly the way it used to be, which is really exciting to get to break some of those barriers.”
Carter too knows the significance of his performance.
“Opening in L.A. was one of the most nerve wracking experiences for me. My anxiety was through the roof. But I got out on stage and one of my mantras is that I am doing this for every little Black boy that doesn't see themself as a leading role in a Broadway musical,” he explains. “I didn't see the representation growing up. So I looked out in the audience and sure enough, I saw a boy sitting right there and I was doing it for him. And that honestly subsided by anxiety. It made me be like, ‘Oh yeah, I'm here. I got this. I got this. I have to do this.’ There was no pressure. It was just more so joy was now emitted from my performance that night.”
Mean Girls the movie is approaching its 20th anniversary and still it remains a firm stance in the current pop culture zeitgeist. Indeed, the script’s zingers and cast’s fashion make it a rich source for social media fodder, but its true timelessness is at the heart of the story.
“We all sort of feel like Cady sometimes,” Hassan says. “At any time in our life, we can feel like a fish out of water, like we don’t belong in this certain space.”
Not only can audiences relate to Cady, but also to Regina— or at least empathize. “She’s not just this b*****, mean girl. She's got all these layers and that's why she behaves in a manipulative manner.”
Pictured (L-R): English Bernhardt (Cady Heron), Jasmine Rogers (Gretchen Wieners), Nadina Hassan (Regina George), Morgan Ashley Bryant (Karen Smith), Lindsay Heather Pearce (Janis Sarkisian) and the National Touring Company of Mean Girls.
“I'm incredibly lucky I get to be carrying this legacy currently for this character,” she later says. “I think it's just really fun to play such a manipulative person because Nadina is very different from Regina. And that's always been an actor's greatest challenge and most fun challenge is playing somebody who's totally different from you.”
Tickets are now available to see Mean Girls.