Monday, June 11, 2018

The MEAN GIRLS musical

Greetings from Gotham.  Congrats to THE BAND'S VISIT, which was the big Tony musical winner last night.   I saw it and thought it was the right choice.

I also saw, with great anticipation, the new MEAN GIRLS musical, which was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and I believe came away with nothing or next to nothing.   And it pains me to say this because I love Tina Fey, but how did they even get all those nominations?

At this point I should post a disclaimer -- young women in the audience were orgasmic over every mediocre song and moment.   If you were just watching the audience and not the show you'd think it was the biggest hit in the history of Broadway.   But especially when compared with a musical that had some depth, way better music and songs, and storytelling that depended on emotion and not glitzy video screens and razzle dazzle, it paled.

And both were adapted from movies.

The MEAN GIRL movie is a classic.  So sharp, so funny, so deliciously twisted.  Tina Fey's screenplay is comedy gold.   Very little of that brilliance made it to the footlights.

Instead we had forgettable songs, one after the other after the other.  They didn't move the story forward.  They just expressed the moment at hand.   And there were so many there was very little time for Tiina Fey's book.   So the book essentially consisted of twelve of the best one-liners from the movie.  A number of reviewers pointed out the same thing.

So why weren't some songs cut (it was a long show)?  Well, the composer was Tina's husband.    Anyone who's been in a marriage suddenly understands.

Was the show bad?  No.  It had its moments and even its good songs ("Stop" was wonderful).  The visuals were dazzling and the energetic young cast danced their guts out.  It's just that... well, I had higher expectations.   I love Tina Fey and I love MEAN GIRLS -- what could go wrong? 

Adding songs to a non-musical narrative (i.e. a movie) comes with a risk.  Story turns need to be abbreviated, characters need to be less complex -- something has to go to allow for all the singing and production numbers.   And all that is fine if the music adds another layer.   But in this case it didn't.  And the lyrics were not nearly as clever as Tina Fey's dialogue (understandably a tall order for any lyricist).   So the end result just feels like another Broadway cash grab that redresses an existing franchise to draw in paying customers.   Disney has done this with everything they've made except PERRI, THE FLYING SQUIRREL.

I suspect MEAN GIRLS will run longer than THE BAND'S VISIT despite losing all the Tony's to it.  And if you're in the target age group, save your allowance (for months) and fly your freak flag.   But for my money this was not Tina Fey's best work... although I will be first in line to see whatever she comes up with next. 


Jim S said...

You make an excellent point about songs and how they add length.

A few years ago Turner Classic Movies played "My Fair Lady" and "Pygmalion" back to back on a special movie night.

Rex Harrison was famous for insisting that the book of "My Fair Lady" be true to George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" and used the play as his script.

What was interesting about the TCM movie night was seeing how scenes for the two movies played against one another. The same dialogue filmed a couple of decades apart by different directors.

But what really struck me was how short "Pygmalion" was. It was a tight 90 minutes. I'm sure the movie people left some of the play out to get it to that tight time run, but that made me realize that the songs of "My Fair Lady" added an hour or more to the Shaw play. And these songs were terrific. Wouldn't cut a one. They really added to the words of Shaw.

And the funny thing is, despite its length, "My Fair Lady" doesn't seem like a long play, just a play with a lot that I want to see. I guess Roger Ebert was right. No Great play or movie is too long, no bad play or movie is too short.

Guess we can't say the same for "Mean Girls."

Oliver said...

Talking about expectations: how do you manage yours? Is there a way of telling whether something is really that bad or whether you just expected too much? I often get the most out of things I didn't expect much from - and after I praised them to someone else, they get theire hopes up so much they are disappointed afterwards.

Richard said...

I have to disagree - I loved mean girls - I saw it in one of the final previews and found it really fresh and funny. I've since bought the soundtrack and really enjoy listening it!

McAlvie said...

But it sounds like it played well with the audience it was targeting.

Off topic, been binging on Frasier recently, and I don't think that show will ever feel dated. I laugh as much now as I did then. Were the Maris jokes as much fun to write as it sounds? I have to say that after only a few episodes, the character was fully formed in my mind, in spite of the fact that we never see her. Never actually casting that role was a brilliant decision on someone's part. A writer friend once told me that a good book is a collaboration between writer and reader, with the reader's imagination filling in the white space between lines.

Covarr said...

I haven't seen the musical, but I've heard the cast recording, and I was baffled at how generic it was, musically. Like, forget the lyrics, I wanna know why the show seems so dead set against having its own unique musical identity, instead choosing to sound like a mishmash of the last twenty years of Broadway at its Broadwayest.

I was actually really excited to listen to the soundtrack. As you mentioned, it was composed by Tina Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond. He is also responsible for the music in 30 ROCK and UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, which I always thought both had great background music. I guess background score is a different skill set from writing more traditionally-structured and melody-centric tunes for vocals? I dunno, but it came out bland and not up to his usual standard.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I haven't seen MEAN GIRLS the musical, yet I can tell you exactly why it got so many nominations. Because its TINA FEY! If, hypothetically, it was a musical based on the works of say...Roseanne Barr, not only would it have never been nominated, but the villagers would have surrounded the theatre with torches, clubs and pitchforks. That's even if it was of equal or superior quality. No one is fooled here. You've discussed the ratings for various award shows in previous blogs. I wonder what the overnights were for this year's Tonys. Especially when you consider how many people were at West Hollywood's "Pride Parade" and not at home watching television.

Johnny Hy said...


Saw this promo photo from 1972 of the cast of MASH and thought you might like it

E. Yarber said...

I've referred before to Frank Pierson's 2003 commencement address to the USC Film School, in which he tells them about the studio Hollywood he knew and the way it was gradually sold off to conglomerates with no ties to entertainment. As he tells it:

"As the huge debt created by mergers was added to the rising costs of making little but blockbusters, the risks of making a film forced the businessmen to be risk averse, to play to the least critical audience:

"Teen-age boys with disposable income."

Broadway shows are hugely expensive to produce, so here's one for a least-critical audience: teen-age GIRLS with disposable income. They don't have enough experience with stage productions to see how thin this one is. The emphasis on musical numbers is obviously to promote the cast album, not to create an organic stage presentation.

Someone who goes to this show knowing OKLAHOMA is OK would naturally feel flat-footed. This is aimed at an audience geared to squealing at Justin Bieber, and how likely would you be to pay Broadway rates for one of HIS concerts?

Maybe I'm just sore because my MOD SQUAD musical never made it out of Pasadena.

Donald from Chicago said...

Still waiting for the "Volunteers" musical. I see "What is Time Again" a first act closer.

Jabroniville said...

I knew something was up when I saw the song they used for the Tonys, and realized that was probably their BEST ONE. When THAT'S the best you can muster, you're in trouble. I was surprised both this and FROZEN were up- I love FROZEN to a ridiculous degree, but the critics were pretty "meh" about it. Yet they were both up, despite almost nobody in their cast being nominated for anything (I saw one MEAN GIRLS girl up for Best Actress), even their Elsa (who was well-liked by all the critics).

It was pretty obvious THE BAND'S VISIT was gonna win just from hearing that "Omar Sharif" song. Holy crap. And then both actors won their awards, making it a wash.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Jim S: My recollection is that the Broadway production (which I saw as a child - Julie Andrews!) of MY FAIR LADY was shorter than the eventual musical, so I'm not sure that comparing the movie to PYGMALION is fair. On stage, MY FAIR LADY followed PYGMALION much more closely in terms of scenes and settings, so you didn't get all those we-must-show-it's-a-movie scenes (like Eliza at the ball).

I didn't think WICKED had any memorable songs either. I'd have thought that was a modern trend - except for THE BOOK OF MORMON, which had two.


Dixon Steele said...

Not to pile on but I thought the songs from MEAN GIRLS really didn't land at all on the Tonys....

scottmc said...

I just saw that the musical version of 'Tootsie' has started performances in Chicago prior to its going to Broadway next year. The score is by the composer of 'The Band's Visit'. I noticed that the Book by Robert Horn is based on the story by Larry Gelbart and Don McGuire, not on the screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal. I seem to recall reading that Larry Gelbart was working on adapting one of his screenplays as a musical at the time of his death. I wonder if 'Toosie' was it. Reading about the show reminded me that today was also the day that Larry passed away.
It will be fun watching the progress of this show and see if it will be successful.
I remember a story about the writing of the film. Larry Gelbart said that the first time he met co-author Schisgal was when they both went up to receive an award for their work.