Tina Fey on Debuting 'Mean Girls' the Musical Amid #MeToo Movement
The actress, writer and producer spoke to THR about adapting her beloved 2004 film for the stage — and why its core message feels even more relevant in 2018.
It’s been 14 years since Tina Fey left an indelible mark on pop culture with her now-iconic teen comedy Mean Girls, for which she wrote the screenplay and appeared in a key supporting role. Now, with the beloved 2004 film's Broadway adaptation, Fey is ready to extend the Plastics' legacy.
"Mean Girls is not just a story about women being bitches. With the musical, we were able to push its message a little further — which is the idea that we can all be kinder to one another," the actress, writer and producer told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday, after the show's opening night at the August Wilson Theatre in New York.
Asked how the Mean Girls narrative complements the heightened sense of female empowerment inspired by cultural movements like #MeToo and Time's Up, Fey pointed out that "the movie always had a good heart," despite the characters' Burn Book behavior.
"It's about how being cruel to other people is only a poison that you're taking yourself," she explained. "Right now, that feels particularly relevant because of the relational aggression we're seeing spread across our society."
While Mean Girls' Broadway debut is a "dream come true" for Fey — whose husband, Jeff Richmond, served as the musical's composer — the five-year project didn't come without its challenges. "The hardest part — the movie was my first screenplay, so parts of the screenplay were wonky. Getting the story in its best shape [for the musical] was tricky for me," she said.
According to author Rosalind Wiseman — whose 2002 self-help book about the perils of popularity, Queen Bees and Wannabes, inspired Mean Girls and its 2011 direct-to-TV sequel, Mean Girls 2 — Fey's stage version is its best iteration so far.
"I know people love the movie. I know they do, but I do think that the musical is better because the storyline is really strong about girls supporting each other," the writer told THR ahead of Sunday night's show. "It's more clear about the girls saying, 'We have to support each other.'"
Added Wiseman: "It penetrates deeper now because the stakes are higher these days. We know what the issues are. They're so in our face all the time that I think there's this real sensibility. It is important for girls to stick together and for women to stick together. We see that and we demand it more."
Taylor Louderman, who plays queen bee Regina George, agrees. During a post-show celebration at TAO Downtown, the actress revealed that conversations with Wiseman helped her realize the potential impact Mean Girls' latest form might have on kids — especially young women — in 2018.
"It's a huge message for women and young people in general. Mean Girls is a story about finding your voice, and encouraging young people — women in particular — to say how they feel in a straightforward way that doesn't compromise anyone's dignity because one's dignity is nonnegotiable," said Louderman. "I got that from Queen Bees and Wannabes. Rosalind's been so amazing in chatting back and forth with the cast about her book and its core message. We realize that with this, we have a platform and we are role models for young people that come see the show. That's not lost on us."
Though Mean Girls vibrates a bit more in the #MeToo and Time's Up era, director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw assured THR that "it wasn't like we were going, 'Let's get on the bandwagon about what's happening now in order to make a point.'"
The Tony winner continued, "We’ve been working on this show for five years. We didn't know that we would be at this stage in the world right now when we started coming up with it. But the fact that it falls in line with everything that's going on right now, we couldn't be more thrilled. It just goes to show that Mean Girls was always kind of ahead of the game, and that's a testament to Tina's talent as a storyteller."