Mean Girls the Musical review: Not a cool musical – just a distinctly average musical adaptation

Grace Mouat (Karen), Charlie Burn (Cady), Georgina Castle (Regina), Elèna Gyasi (Gretchen) in ‘Mean Girls’  (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
Grace Mouat (Karen), Charlie Burn (Cady), Georgina Castle (Regina), Elèna Gyasi (Gretchen) in ‘Mean Girls’ (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

There’s a big profound message at the heart of Mean Girls – The Pointless Musical Stage Adaptation, which is: don’t be mean. Someone write that down. Oh wait, they did: “Be a good person” is scrawled in huge letters on the soulless digital set at the show’s climax, for those at the back who might have missed it.

Except, not being mean isn’t the same as being a good person. Because, look, I’ll probably sound a bit mean about Mean Girls – The Distinctly Average Musical Adaptation, but I’m not trying to be a bad person. If it means you save on a pricey ticket and stream the original film instead, that’s good, right?

When the film came out in 2004, the story of outsider Cady Heron moving to America and settling into the horrors of high school, ruled over by The Plastics clique with their vile queen Regina George, felt like a very fresh take on high school comedy. Tina Fey’s script was razor sharp, plentifully daft, with a dark edge that set it apart from its peers.

All of that’s here. If the movie didn’t exist, this would be fine. I mean, the score by Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond would still be a bit anodyne, every song filler-y, most of them unmemorable, the direction by Casey Nicholaw functional, his choreography fruitlessly maximal, the digital set a bit empty and unimaginative.

But the movie does exist, and everything that’s good about the musical is just a good bit from the movie. It isn’t a bad musical, really, but there isn’t a single moment that justifies its musical existence. When this was on Broadway in 2018 it clocked up 12 Tony nominations somehow. Since then, while we’ve been waiting for it to come to the West End, the musical has been turned into a film. All this time you could have just watched the original film.

Elena Skye (Janis), Tom Xander (Damian) and Charlie Burn (Cady) in ‘Mean Girls’ (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
Elena Skye (Janis), Tom Xander (Damian) and Charlie Burn (Cady) in ‘Mean Girls’ (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

Good points: the cast. There’s a great performance from Tom Xander as Damien, one of the “art freaks” who befriends Cady. Xander delivers his lines really zingily, and there’s some funny stuff with sunglasses and a mobility scooter. Georgina Castle is an acid Regina George, the evil queen of the high school, and Elena Gyasi and Grace Mouat play her acolytes brilliantly, Gyasi wound so tightly that she could snap any second and Mouat the very stupid, very wide-eyed Karen.

Front and centre, Charlie Burn is very good at the switch between kind, clever Cady and horrible, manipulative Cady, and the effort it takes to wear a disguise rather than embracing who you are.

While all these kids are presented as completely assured, comfortable in their own cliques, the musical itself struggles to find its own identity. The film came out in 2004 – twenty years ago! – and although Fey’s apparently set the musical version in the present day, the evidence for that is scarce. Damien has an Eras tour poster on his wall; there’s a mention of Ozempic. That’s about it. Spiritually, it feels much more like a period piece. It doesn’t go near any of the concerns of high school kids today, and instead assumes that enough has stayed the same for the story to work. I don’t think that’s the case, and we end up with a show that’s pulling itself between past and present.

There’s a talented team behind this, but what they give feels like the bare minimum, devoid of imagination beyond the main impulse to just turn a film into a musical. It’s all very competent, all very passing grade. It’s the high school kid who should be doing so much better. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

Savoy Theatre, booking until February 2025