Mean Girls the Musical review: still breezy and arch but ultimately the stage show is not so fetch

Georgina Castle and the Mean Girls ensemble (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
Georgina Castle and the Mean Girls ensemble (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

This breezy, arch but boneless musical adaptation by Tina Fey of her milestone high school comedy demonstrates the law of diminishing returns. The 2004 film set a bracingly acerbic marker on the familiar story arc of a naïve newcomer’s journey through some permutation of acceptance, betrayal and redemption.

Since then, countless other smart, sassy entertainment products have explored the territory, many of them (Glee, High School Musical) through song. Countless revivals have reminded us that Grease did it first and best back in 1971.

Mean Girls itself spawned a 2011 sequel, and this stage version – with poppy, mostly forgettable songs by Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond and lyricist Nell Benjamin – was remade as a musical film between its 2018 Boadway debut and this London run. Truly, popular culture is devouring itself.

Bouncily directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, the stage show sticks pretty close to the original, but updated to include allusions to social media, Ozempic and the increased pornification of teenage life: there are jokes about blowing, fingering and choking within the first 20 minutes.

Cady (Charlie Burn, a nice mix of goofy and resilient) formerly home-schooled by her academic mother in Kenya, arrives in the bitch-eat-bitch world of North Shore High in Illinois with few social skills. Fortunately she’s befriended by not one but two gay best friends, Janis and Damian, outcast opponents of ruling clique The Plastics, led by the mantis-like Regina George (Georgina Castle).

Daniel Bravo and Charlie Burn (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
Daniel Bravo and Charlie Burn (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

Cady gets a chance to infiltrate this elite and is seduced by its savage power before realising that unity is better than division and honesty better than fakery. Everyone learns, everyone hugs.

Like the emotional staging posts of the story, the scenarios are by-the-numbers. There’s the cafeteria anthropology lesson on school tribes; Cady’s clumsy flirtation with Regina’s ex, Aaron, in math class; the drunken teen-party meltdown.

The songs make glaringly specific what was drolly implied in the film and some have unsingable titles like Apex Predator and Sexy. You find yourself wishing for each number to end so we can get back to Fey’s insouciant wit.

“I wanna change your eyebrows,” Regina coos to her dimwit sidekick Karen (a star turn by Grace Mouat). “Will I still have two?” says Karen, trotting obediently after her. “Do you know what they’d call me if I was a boy?” Regina asks later. “Reginald. I’d rather be ‘bitch’.”

The dialogue, and some clever dance routines lift an efficient piece of entertainment. But we’ve seen it all before, from the gauche, non-white calculus nerds to the hip-cocked poses and pelmet skirts of the hotties.

It’s a shame to see Fey flogging her finest creation beyond its natural life, but it can’t tarnish her greatest achievement: making the term “that is so fetch” work as urban slang for a piece of urban slang that doesn’t work. Now that’s genius.

Savoy Theatre, booking to February 15 2025; for tickets visit here