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The Drama Stays Onstage for the ‘Mean Girls’ Cast and Creative Team

April 2, 2018 by Suzy Evans
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Clockwise from top left: Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell, Kyle Selig, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Grey Henson, Erika Henningsen, Rick Younger, Kerry Butler, Taylor Louderman, and Cheech Manohar (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

 

On the first day of rehearsal for “Mean Girls,” Tina Fey posted Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements,” a manifesto for the environment she wanted to foster among the cast and crew for her first Broadway show, a musical adaptation of her cult-favorite 2004 film. The “agreements” are as follows: Be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; don’t make assumptions; and always do your best. The credo is the antithesis of the musical’s never-ending drama at North Shore High, where queen bee Regina George and the Plastics’ religion is gossip and their Bible is The Burn Book.

“The story sadly feels as timely, if not more timely in 2018, than it did in 2004 in terms of people just needing to remember to be kind to each other,” Fey says, adding that she’s glad the cast is taking the “agreements” to heart during the process. “They bring so much energy and so much positivity. Everyone is here to work really hard, but they also know that making something good never has to involve screaming and yelling.”

Offstage, the cast has formed a tight-knit family. While everyone is focused in the rehearsal room, ensemble members DeMarius Copes and Curtis Holland will break out in improv chants to get everyone pumped up when the energy starts to wane. During off hours, the actors, many of whom live near each other, hang out like neighborhood friends from a sitcom, hosting game nights, having sleepovers, and posting many of their antics on social media.

“All of us take our jobs seriously, but we don’t take ourselves as seriously,” says Ashley Park, who plays Gretchen Wieners. “This is a high-pressure environment and a high-profile show. To have each other’s backs and to feel safe with each other makes the collaboration more fun.”

The camaraderie charts back to D.C., where the musical had its world premiere at the National Theatre in the fall. The cast lived together in apartments near the theater and spent almost all of their time together outside of grueling rehearsals. Kyle Selig, who plays heartthrob Aaron Samuels, remembers the bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, where they spent a lot of their time and formed a rapport with the staff and locals there.

Fey has been in the rehearsal room from day one, and the cast agrees that her presence is a “game changer.” “This isn’t just something she’s doing because somebody told her she needs to check off this box,” says Kate Rockwell, who plays Karen Smith. “She loves this piece, and she’s so passionate about making sure it’s the best, newest, most fresh version of it. That is infectious.”

The cast and creative team, which includes lyricist Nell Benjamin and composer Jeff Richmond, also applaud director Casey Nicholaw. Nicholaw strives to create a convivial environment in the rehearsal room, and he and the writers have crafted the roles around each performer’s specific talents.

“I try to make it feel like it’s a buoyant, joyous room and also that everyone gets to contribute,” the director says. “You would be dumb as a creator to not create around the people that you have.”

There are 14 Broadway debuts in the cast, including Rick Younger as the principal Mr. Duvall and Cheech Manohar as mathlete Kevin Gnapoor. During the press day for the show, the cast and creative team paired up for interviews, and eagerly laid on the floor together for our group photo shoot. While there are disagreements among the group, as there are in any friendship or family, Fey has really encouraged an atmosphere of support.

“You don’t have to be best friends, but everybody deserves respect and common decency,” says Erika Henningsen, who plays Cady Heron, of Fey’s leadership. “There’s a way to be strong and intelligent and powerful without being mean and undercutting other people, and that’s okay. You can be that strong person as long as everybody else doesn’t suffer because of it.”

And Taylor Louderman, who plays the villainous George, has coined a great motto for the group: “If you have differences, set those aside. Take the best, leave the rest.”

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