MEAN GIRLS is the story of Cady Heron (English Bernhardt), who has been raised in Kenya, Africa, and homeschooled all her life. When her mother gets a job in Chicago, Cady’s in a very different jungle from the one she left. It merits pointing out that Heather Ayers, who portrays Cady’s mother, Regina’s mother, and the AP Calculus teacher, manages to differentiate her characters so well that it’s easy to miss that they’re played by the same person.
When the show first opens, Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) and Janis Sarkisian (Lindsay Heather Pearce), break the fourth wall to introduce Cady to the audience. These two set a very high bar from the start with powerhouse vocals.
We move to the Kenyan plains to meet Cady. Ms. Bernhardt does not disappoint with a beautiful, but still very strong voice. Ms. Bernhardt also does a great job at transitioning her character from a meek newbie to a queen bee in the second act.
High school is hard enough without being a newbie. Damian and Janis, who have deemed themselves Cady’s friends, talk about all of the various cliques in school in a number that had the audience roaring, “Where Do You Belong?” Enter Regina George (Nadina Hassan), the Queen Bee of the school and her minions, Gretchen Wieners (u/s Mary Beth Donahoe at the performance I saw) and Karen Smith (Morgan Ashley Bryant), aka “The Plastics”.
Each of these ladies has their moment to shine in the show, and each of them does it very well. When Ms. Hassan makes the “World Burn” in Act 2, burn it does! And why does the world burn? Because Janis and Damian convince Cady to join the Plastics to get insider dirt on them. Then in AP Calculus, Cady crushes on Aaron Samuels (Wesley J. Barnes), who happens to be Regina’s ex-boyfriend. Regina steals back Aaron, and in retaliation, Cady sabotages Regina’s weight loss regimen. When Regina can no longer dress to the Plastics rules, she’s kicked out, and Cady takes over. When Regina discovers the sabotage, she uses her Burn Book to discredit staff and students.
MEAN GIRLS is a lot of fun. What impressed me most with this cast is how well each performer defined, executed and maintained their character throughout the show. There is not a weak actor or voice in the group. The choreography is on the simpler side, which is appropriate for this show, although execution wasn’t always on point.
The orchestra was top-notch, and I always appreciate when a touring company attaches local talent to enhance the sound. However they did overpower several of the numbers, especially if only one or two individuals were singing. I cannot be certain if part of the problem was microphones being set too low.
The set was amazing. The entire background was done by projections, eliminating the need for pieces that drop from the ceiling or walls needing to be moved. All of the moving pieces were on rollers, and the choreography with pieces and getting pieces in and out was seamless.
MEAN GIRLS is the last show in the FSCJ Artist Series for 22-23 season and runs April 25-30, 2023, at the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts. Ticket prices vary based on show and seating.
The FSCJ ARTIST SERIES has just announced an amazing lineup for its 23-24 season! It opens with a return of the previously sold-out THE BOOK OF MORMON Dec 1-3, 2023. In February is HADES TOWN, followed by TINA, The Tina Turner Musical, SIX, and closing with a two-week run of FROZEN. For tickets and information, go to fscjartistseries.org or call (904) 632-5000.
By Cessy Newmon