When it comes to Mean Girls, the limit does not exist. After debuting as a smash hit movie in 2004, the story of the Plastics and the North Shore High School students they terrorize made the jump to Broadway in 2018, and a national tour in 2019. Now, as the musical is poised to head back to the screen as a movie musical, Mean Girls is hitting the next frontier: actual schools.
That’s right: Theatrical licensor Music Theatre International has added Mean Girls to its Broadway Junior catalogue, which adapts Broadway shows like Shrek, Newsies, and Matilda for young performers. Adapted from the full-length Broadway show with a book by Tina Fey (adapting her own screenplay) and songs by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin, Mean Girls JR. is designed to be performed by actors 18 and under. With a running time of just over an hour, the show includes author-approved key changes (for young voices) and other edits to make the show fully kid friendly.
Mean Girls JR. officially debuted at Junior Theater Festival 2023, held January 13-15 in Atlanta, Georgia. The weekend-long festival brought 125 youth theatre groups from 28 states (along with Washington D.C., Canada, and Australia) together for three days of singing, dancing, acting, and learning. Groups bring a 15-minute excerpt of a Broadway Junior title and perform it for adjudicators who both judge the presentations for a number of festival awards and lead a work session with the group. But JTF is so much more than a competition. It’s a celebration of everything youth theatre.
When kids aren’t performing or in workshops, they’re in the gargantuan Cobb Galleria Convention Center ballroom for performances and interviews, including a showcase of the latest Broadway Junior titles. Sandy Springs, Georgia’s The City Springs Theatre Conservatory was on hand to present a special preview of Mean Girls JR., performing “It Roars,” “Where Do You Belong?”, and “I See Stars.”
See clips from CSTC's preview of Mean Girls JR. below:
@playbill Mean Girls Jr. introduced at @Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta. #meangirls #meangirlsjr #juniortheatrefestival #broadway #musicaltheatre #theatretok ♬ original sound - playbill
But that young cast wasn’t the only mean girls in attendance at this year’s festival. Just after completing their performance, the CSTC kids were joined onstage by Mean Girls Broadway alums Erika Henningsen, Grey Henson, Kate Rockwell, Kyle Selig, and Krystina Alabado.
We caught up with the Broadway actors backstage as they basked in the glow of something all too often rare to New York actors stuck in the daily grind: pure, unbridled enthusiasm. As we spoke, more than 5,000 young theatre fans separated from us by just 30 feet and a curtain began singing along to “It Takes Two” from the newly released Broadway revival cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (another title one can find in the Broadway Junior catalogue).
“The vibe in New York right now is, ‘I don’t really know what’s happening with theatre,’” reflects Henningsen, who created the role of Cady Herron on Broadway. “And then you walk into this room of 5,000-plus kids and you just think, ‘OK.’ And these are just the kids that could be here! If this many people are still obsessed over musical theatre, so much so that they’re willing to come out for three whole days just to do it—whether they become audience members, actors, producers. They just give me hope. I did not know that people at this age were still so excited for musical theatre.”
“It’s a pretty powerful place,” adds Alabado, a Broadway Gretchen Wieners who has attended JTF as an adjudicator for years. “I always tell my friends in New York, ‘If you want your soul to be reignited in what we do, come to JTF.’ They’re so happy and they’re so excited and this makes their whole year.”
“It reminds you why you went into musical theatre,” says Rockwell, Broadway’s original intellectually challenged Plastic Karen Smith. “It’s a childlike artform. And for you to be good at musical theatre, you have to be able to tap into your inner child. Being here is the most reinvigorating experience of reminding you why theatre matters, why it’s important to do theatre, why it’s important to watch theatre. It brings you back to this place of being a kid and just feeling sheer joy, sheer emotion, and not having to worry about everything that goes on top of it as you get older.”
According to Henson, who created the role of North Shore’s resident show queen Damian Hubbard, that joy was present in Mean Girls’ younger fans during the Broadway run. “The kids at the stage door were like, ‘I can’t wait to play that role. I’m a Gretchen. I’m a Regina.’ And now they get to do that,” says Henson. “That’s what was so special for us, connecting with them at the stage door pre-pandemic. And now we get to fly everywhere and watch them do Mean Girls JR.”
But it’s not just that they like the show. According to Selig, Broadway’s original heartthrob Aaron Samuels, handing this show over to middle and high schoolers lets kids tap into what they’re currently going through, such as peer pressure, bullying, and feeling like an outcast. “It’s very much their lived experience,” says Selig. “A lot of the issues and the complexities of being a teenager are dealt with in the show and it just sort of encapsulates that. I think if they get to practice that in a play and not do it in real life, all the better.”
This conversation also resonated with Rockwell, who, as of just a few weeks ago, is a brand new mom (a cool mom, we’re sure). “Kids have to deal with this stuff so much sooner than when Mean Girls was written 20 years ago,” Rockwell reflects. “Being a teenager or a pre-teen has changed. By the time these kids are 13, they’re already dealing with what it’s like to try to handle bullying and fitting in, and trying to be yourself in a crowd of people telling you what you should do. It’s lovely that you can actually look at that story at that age and have a little bit of reinforcement that it’s OK to be yourself, to not just go with the crowd.”
And as for that upcoming movie musical, will we see any Mean Girls stage alum on screen? We already know that Renée Rapp will reprise her Broadway performance as Queen Bee Regina George. As for the others, they’re hoping you haven’t noticed, but one or two of them might be a week or two older than their characters are supposed to be. Yes—in 2023, it turns out this group doesn’t even go here.
“We should be the parents in the mall, judging the kids during ‘Apex Predator,’” jokes Henson.
“I can bring my actual daughter and we can just actually walk through the mall,” adds Rockwell. Someone call Hollywood because that would be…well, fetch.