“Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Regina George?”
If this line resonates with you, there’s a good chance you are among the many anxiously awaiting the musical version of the smash 2004 movie, Mean Girls, which will stage its pre-Broadway run at the National Theatre in D.C., with a five-week run, Oct. 31 through Dec. 3.
The world premiere of the cult comedy has a powerhouse lineup behind the scenes with a book by funny woman Tina Fey (the film’s scribe), original music by Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband and frequent musical collaborator) and lyrics by Nell Benjamin. Tony winner Casey Nicholawis (Book of Mormon) directs.
Although updated with contemporary references for a 2017 feel, the show’s plot is basically the same as the film and follows Cady Heron, who after growing up with her zoologist parents in Africa, moves to Illinois and experiences what it is to be part of a high school social hierarchy.
Cady attracts the attention of The Plastics, a trio of popular frenemies led by the vicious and calculating Regina George, and Cady devises a plan to end the reign of the Mean Girls.
The cast is led by Erika Henningsen as Cady, Taylor Louderman as Regina, Ashley Park as Gretchen, Kate Rockwell as Karen, Barrett Wilbert Weed as Janis and Broadway vet Kerry Butler playing a trio of adult characters.
The show also stars Grey Henson as Damian (played by Daniel Franzes in the movie), the lovable social outcast who is “too gay to function” and befriends Cady upon her arrival at North Shore High.
“I grew up with this movie and I can quote it in my sleep, so I’m very happy and lucky to be a part of it,” Henson says. “It was one of those movies that just seemed to always be on and was just embedded in my friend’s and my vocabulary. We watched and quoted and loved it all.”
Henson grew up in a small town in Georgia and understands first hand how a transition to high school can be both exciting and scary, and uses a lot of his own personal experiences to help shape his character.
“I knew I was gay but I wasn’t out openly and publicly, and I approached life from this strange sense of humor that ended up being Tina Fey’s voice, which I think is why I ended up being such a fan of hers,” he says. “I was always the funny one in school and I’m trying to bring a lot of myself to Damian. I think a lot of us were hired because we link to these characters, which are so iconic and wonderful and full of life and so well written.”
Being such a Fey fan, Henson has enjoyed tremendously working with her and bringing the movie to life on stage.
“She and her husband are there every day and both of them are very involved. This is like their baby,” he says. “It’s a new world for them. She’s working on the script every day. They are so approachable and human and normal. It’s almost shocking to me. Benjamin, who is writing the lyrics, has somehow roped herself in this family and they all have the same voice and it’s very exciting to watch and see how the changes unfold every day.”
Since the movie came out 13 years ago, the musical production updates things from the storyline, and one of the big changes involves Damian.
October 31 – December 3, 2017
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“As far as sexuality and teenagers today, things are way more open now when I was in high school and when the movie came out, and we see Damian is a little more comfortable. It’s more matter-of-fact that he’s gay,” Henson says. “There’s nothing really withheld from him, which makes him not as flamboyant; he’s more confident and comfortable in his own skin.”
Still, much of what fans of the movie expect will be included, so there’s no need to worry that popular lines like “Fetch” and “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me” won’t be included.
At 6-foot-3, with the frame of a linebacker, Henson might not be your prototypical theater performer, but he’s wanted to be on stage since the age of 3. Although in his younger days, he wanted to be a professional dancer.
“I started in ballet but I did some acting on the side because my mother really loved it,” he says. “As I hit puberty, I realized I was not the body type to be a male dancer and I fell in love with acting.”
He attended Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, and made his Broadway debut playing Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon on the First National Tour.
“Rory O’Malley (who played the role originally) went to the same school, and I auditioned for the tour during senior year and worked with Casey then for the first time,” he says. “Two years ago, Casey gave me a call about a reading for Mean Girls—they had written the first act. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Originating a character on stage has been on his bucket list, and he’s looking forward to taking first crack at Damian in the musical.
“It’s exciting because you have free rein and you know the choices you make on stage will forever be in that script. Casey is so good about letting us give it our stamp, and critiquing it and fitting it all together,” Henson says. “I think about me doing shows growing up in community theater thinking ‘these people developed the script,’ and in 20 years, those performing this show at a small theater in Macon, Ga., will know I helped create this role.”
Preparing for the show’s opening, Henson says the cast has been bonding very quickly and likens the experience to “spending summer camp in D.C.” He expects audiences will fall in love the show, regardless of whether they are fans of the movie.
“The message of Mean Girls is mostly about friendship in high school. Everyone can be cruel but at end of day it’s important to see the best in people and forgive and move on and not sweat the small stuff,” he says. “High school is just a microcosm of the rest of the world, I think.
“[Mean Girls is] a wonderful coming of age story about the core of friendship and how important and powerful it is.”