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Erika Henningsen Is the Groolest in ‘Mean Girls’

February 15, 2018 by Suzy Evans
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Erika Henningsen (Photographed by Jenny Anderson)

On Broadway, we wear pink – or at least Erika Henningsen does. The newcomer is headlining “Mean Girls” on Broadway as Cady Heron, the new student-turned-protégé of reigning high school queen bee Regina George. Based on the 2004 Tina Fey movie, the show, which features a book by Fey, music by Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, is set to start performances at the August Wilson Theatre on March 12.

However, “mean girl” couldn’t be further from the truth when describing the down-to-earth and delightful Henningsen. Over chai lattes on a chilly day in December, Henningsen is all smiles. She recently returned from Washington, D.C., where “Mean Girls” played at The National Theatre, and she’s gearing up for rehearsals to start in New York. While she made her Broadway debut as a replacement for Fantine in the revival of “Les Misérables” in 2015, she’ll originate a role for the first time in “Mean Girls.”

“If I stop to truly absorb it, I think I’ll be overwhelmed,” she says. “There are certain moments when it hits me, like when Tina comes up onstage and gives me a different line and I’m like, ‘Oh right, we are collaborating.’ That’s kind of surreal.”

Growing up in Northern California, Henningsen remembers “Mean Girls” as the movie she and her friends would watch at sleepovers, and years later, she can still quote several scenes verbatim. She says she was a lot like Cady in high school, close to her family and unsure of where she fit in the social eco-system.

Henningsen has learned that life — and particularly the entertainment business — is not about being a people pleaser, and you have to be true to yourself. “You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to treat everyone decently,” Henningsen says. “The more energy you give to others, the less you sort of cultivate your own identity and your own moral compass.”

Someone who has been a role model for her on that journey is Fey. While Fey is inarguably a comedic genius onscreen and Henningsen says her writing is the funniest dialogue she’s ever gotten to say, she notes that Fey’s more quiet and reserved in person, more keen to observe and listen than to hog the spotlight.

“I’ve learned a lot from watching her and seeing that there is strength in being silent,” she says. “She doesn’t overwhelm you and is really clear and thoughtful with how she works and how she interacts with people.”

One of Fey’s lines from the film that sticks with Henningsen is when the teacher Ms. Norbury, played by Fey in the movie, tells the high school girls at the assembly, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores, because it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” And in the age of #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Silence Breakers, “Mean Girls” has a message that’s relevant to women today.

“There are a lot of movies about girls in high school, but ‘Mean Girls’ is the only one that is about relationships between women, the way they undercut one another, the way they undermine, but ultimately, how we are the only people who have the power to build one another up,” she says. “If we lead by example, others follow suit. And so, when we tear one another down, it only furthers that cycle.”

Hair and makeup by Megan Lanoux
Styled By Jake Sokoloff

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