Krystina Alabado and Kate Rockwell on Going Back to High School in ‘Mean Girls’
High school can either be the greatest four years of your life, or a rite of passage you must survive. (Most of us fall into the latter, tbh.) Either way, being the new kid in school is not easy, as Cady Heron learns when she starts at North Shore High in Tina Fey’s hit-film-turned-musical “Mean Girls” about queen bees, wannabes, and everyone in between.
Now the cast is entering their “sophomore year” and are no longer the new kids on Broadway. They know all the hallway shortcuts, which lunch table to sit at, and who to trust – and who not to. Luckily the cast of “Mean Girls” couldn’t be further from their catty and cliquey onstage counterparts, and they welcome new classmates with open arms.
TodayTix sat down with original cast member Kate Rockwell, who plays Karen, and Krystina Alabado, who joined the company in March as Gretchen, about how the show mirrors their own high school experiences, why Tiny Fey is a genius, and what they love about “Mean Girls” fans.
“Mean Girls” opened on Broadway over a year ago. What has this year been like for you, and how has the show changed?
Kate Rockwell: It’s crazy. I think the thing that is the most different now — other than the faces that are onstage — is that it just feels so comfortable. When we started, the show was so high energy and so fast, and there’s so much going on. Keeping up that energy was challenging in the beginning because you had to kind of create it from somewhere. And now that energy is just natural and normal. So in some ways, it seems easier than it used to, which is a little crazy because you think it would get harder as you got more tired.
What was it like to join the cast, Krystina?
Alabado: Oh my gosh, it was so fun. Everyone was so welcoming. I didn’t think that it would be bad, but I also didn’t necessarily expect it to be so warm and so welcoming. I’ll take that with me forever because — not that other companies are cold at all — but everyone just welcomed me with open arms.
The Plastics are really close offstage. Did you do anything fun to initiate Krystina?
Rockwell: There’s nothing sorority-ish. We start the show so late; everybody else has already been working for 15 minutes by the time we come onstage. There is a little bit of a bonding time for the three of us because it’s like having the house yourself. So there’s a little bit of play there. It’s usually a lot of Instagram.
Alabado: Yes, it is a lot. There’s a lot of Instagram in “Mean Girls.”
What is it like for you both being adults playing high schoolers?Alabado: For me it’s been interesting. I was not Gretchen in high school, but I have the tendencies that she has with her anxiety and just the really wanting people to love her and appreciate and accept her. I felt like that all the time in high school. I was not a popular kid. I was pretty nerdy. I didn’t have a lot of friends. So it’s been really interesting to tap back into playing Gretchen because it ends up being easy to access because it reminds me of some of my high school experiences.
Rockwell: Karen is a big departure for me. I don’t even wish that I was Karen in high school. My experience was very different and I think that’s okay. But one of the pieces of me that does kind of carry over from high school and still now, is that she’s perpetually joyful. She’s always happy. And one of the things that I like the most about her is that everything is a yes, and she’s very up for anything. I was never a no person. I was always like, yes let’s do that. And I’m still kind of that way. So I think that’s the piece of her that does connect back to the 17-year-old that I actually was. But that was more than 17 years ago.
What advice would you give to your high school selves?
Rockwell: I wish that I could tell her, relax, relax. It’s going to be okay. Like the things that I stressed about were so not important in the long run. But I would love to really tell her to just take more in and relax a little bit, and enjoy what’s actually happening to you. Worry a little less about what’s coming because what’s coming is great. But you’re always going to have what’s coming and you’re never going to have what was, so hold on to that a little bit.
Alabado: I feel like back then I wanted to be seen. I would tell myself that it’s enough. Because I think I tried so hard when someone wouldn’t give me affirmation of what I was doing because kids don’t really do that. I tried really hard. Every time I say it in the “What’s Wrong With Me?” reprise: “I try so hard. Is that what’s wrong?” And that makes me think of me when I was younger, because I tried really, really hard. And so I would tell myself just to chill out. You are good enough as you are.
Do you have a favorite memory from high school?
Alabado: Some of my favorite memories are from theater. I like to tell kids this all the time, I never got cast as a lead, ever, in my whole high school experience. I didn’t even get cast in one of the shows actually. But my favorite thing in school was marching band because, for some reason, it was like more camaraderie, a little less competition
What did you play in marching band?
Rockwell: She still plays the flute.
Alabado: I do, I have played it as Gretchen Wieners. It’s on my Instagram.
Rockwell: I did a lot of theater, a lot of choir in high school, and I loved it there. I felt safe there. That was like my home. It was not cool to be in theater at all — it was the furthest thing from that. But there was like a place for everyone in our high school. So even though it wasn’t cool, it kind of didn’t matter because there were enough people in our theater and choir group that it made you feel safe anyway.
What roles did you play in high school?
Rockwell: I played Grandma’s Tzeitel in “Fiddler on the Roof.” That was my freshman year show.
Alabado: I played Crystal in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Rockwell: Me too! I played Lady Larkin in “Once Upon A Mattress,” where we had to write in lines about how she and her person eloped because their plot line is that they have sex before they get married and she gets pregnant. And we were like, absolutely not. We cannot do that. So we added lines to the script to make sure that they got married in secret, and that’s why she was pregnant.
In “Mean Girls,” everyone wants to do what Regina George does. Are there any trends that you participated in that you regret now?Rockwell: Oh my God, I would not have known a trend if it punched me in the face. It was Ohio, and it was actually the 90s. And I, we didn’t have any of this social media, I had no smartphone; we barely had the internet. I mean what I remember about myself is that I couldn’t even be cool enough to wear, like Abercrombie was cool when I was a kid. And we didn’t have the money for Abercrombie, so I didn’t even like get that trend. That’s like the trendiest Ohio got back then.
Alabado: The trends that I was into were the nerdy trends. I had my GameBoy in my back pocket. I had my Tamagotchi hooked onto my jeans.
Rockwell: I did have a Tamogatchi.
Alabado: I remember all the girls in school got the Tiffany bracelets with the heart, do you remember that back then?
Alabado: My parents were like, you’re hilarious. So I got the cheap charm bracelet from Claires, like trying to always do the thing that I wanted to do that I could never do.
Rockwell: I did get a belly button ring, that was a thing. I pierced my belly button senior year, secretly, like my friends and I ran away and we didn’t tell our parents we got our belly buttons pierced. That’s the closest to trendy I got in high school.
What about some favorite memories over the “Mean Girls” journey so far?
Alabado: My first show was really, really special. I had some friends in the audience. There were something about doing it for the first time that really solidified just how grateful I am for this experience. Even though it is my third Broadway show, there’s something, it will never go away, like the magic of doing it for the first time.
Rockwell: I have so many positive memories of this show, and one of the ones that sticks out in my head is was just a year ago last week. After all of nightmare of the award season is over, [director] Casey Nicholaw has a little bit of a tradition where he takes his company out on a boat on the water. It’s just us. It was probably because surviving award season was so crazy and we worked so much that that night was the first night where we all relaxed. And every single person was there, we were missing one person. And it was amazing to just get to have that.
What has been one of the things that you’ve learned working with Tina Fey on the show?
Alabado: For who she is and what she’s accomplished in her life, I’ve never met someone so gracious, calm, and supportive. I was always a huge fan of hers. I remember at my final audition, I knew she was in there and I was like, just manage your freaking out right now. And I remember even being in there and she laughed at me once, and I was like, “I don’t care if I get this job because Tina Fey laughed at me.”
Rockwell: She’s taught me what I want to be when I grow up. I mean, I have no ability to be Tina Fey when I grow up. I am not nearly as smart or funny. But I’ve idolized her skill and her talent for a very long time. I don’t have a lot of idols and she’s always been one of them. But what I’ve learned working with her is what it is to be magnanimous and to be powerful and use that power for good, to not back down from something you know to be right, but also to make sure that everybody feels listened to and like their voice is important.
She has never turned down a fan. She’ll sign stuff for them. She’ll go take them on a tour. She will give them the shirt off her back if she thinks that they want it. And it’s not that she needs that; it’s that she understands how much it means to them to spend a few minutes with her, and get to say the things that they want to say to her. She has been nothing but gracious to every single person I have ever put in front of her, which is a lot of people.
What have been some of your favorite fan interactions?
Alabado: My favorite thing has been a fan art. It’s so fun. We have it all over. I walked in the first day when I came to the theater and it was everywhere. And since I’ve started, I’ve gotten so much fan art, like for me as Gretchen. It has been so fun to be with the company. And that is still my favorite, because it’s a tactile thing to see, like how much these kids care and how creative they get based on what we do.
The kids reach out to Gretchen, you know, they reach out to me. They feel like Gretchen at school, they write me lots of letters about that and stuff. So it’s nice to be able to interact with them and make them feel validated.
Rockwell: That’s my favorite part actually, is the letters, because I think it’s really cool that people still write letters…I had a girl email me a little letter once about the fact that she had a Regina in her friend group and she was really struggling with how to deal with it, and she wanted to get away from her. She didn’t know how. And I wrote her back and I was like, “Look, I’m just a person so I don’t know what I think about this, and I don’t ever want to tell you how to live your life. But if it were up to me, I would say that she’s probably a lot more insecure than you think she is, and she’s probably just doing what she thinks she has to do to like feel safe and feel comfortable. So I was like, I think you should try and take it a little less personally. Like we had a whole thing about it, about bullying and what bullies are really like.” And she actually just recently sent me a message on Instagram that I happened to catch and was like, I just want to say I got, like thank you so much for your letter. And it really did help me, and I feel like I’m doing so much better at school now. And that was like a really cool.
What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Alabado: I feel like I get to know Gretchen better every single day. Now, I feel like I’m actually settling into a version of Gretchen — not that I didn’t love her in the beginning — but that I feel comfortable with and really grounded, and that’s really fun for me as an actor. Because the beginning can be crazy, and I feel really happy where I’m at and I’m excited to keep going for the rest of the year.
Rockwell: It’s interesting. I had a day where I really looked up and realized that there were less of our first family and more of our second family onstage. That was the day there was a little bit of like a release in a way where you’re like, “Oh, we’re not trying to like lock it into something.” We’re trying to allow it to grow and allow it to flourish and change, and be brightened by what the new people that come in continue to bring to it. And so my kind of goal, honestly, is to get on the ride of the new train. I don’t think I’ve done a bad job of it at all. I don’t think I’m holding onto the past, but like the to like allow the new energy to sort of take you into a new direction is really cool.