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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

‘Mean Girls’ Brings Plastic to Life at the Hippodrome

"I have one word: plastics." That was a memorable line from the 1967 megahit film The Graduate where an older man offered investment advice to the young Dustin Hoffman character Benjamin. 

Now plastics is prominently featured in the musical (and film) Mean Girls, currently playing at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre through July 17 as part of a national tour.

The Plastics is the name attached to a three-girl clique of high schoolers that the central character Cady is invited in.  She is there to not only spy on the group as directed by her new friend Janis who has vengeance on her mind towards the queen bee, Regina, but also to boost her social status and desirability. As one of the lead characters Damian aptly put it, The Plastics are called that because “they are shiny, fake and hard.”  How that relationship works out for all concerned forms the crux of the story.

In what could only be described as nothing less than a dazzling spectacle, the production of Mean Girls, based on the 2004 film of the same name, entertains on all fronts. There is a talented cast and orchestra to deliver the music by Jeff Richmond, the clever lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and a book by Tina Fey of TV fame who also wrote the film and happens to be married to Richmond.

Conveyed in a contemporary universe where social media can make or break someone, the plot is punchy and at times, preachy. But it is melded into a hilarious tale focusing on teenagers’ social angst and its related mission to attain popularity seemingly at all costs.

Richmond’s and Benjamin’s music, while not spectacular, works well in bringing the story along with several songs that are notable and spread throughout the cast so that all the leads have a turn. The lyrics feature a decent degree of wit but Fey’s droll and biting dialogue carries the day.

What the audience will (or should) remember fondly from this production is the spectacular staging under the direction of Tony nominee Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, The Book of Mormon, The Prom, Something Rotten! as well as the Broadway production of Mean Girls) who also choreographed the show, which earned 12 Tony Award nominations. 

With the talents of scenic designer Scott Pask, lighting design by Kenneth Posner and video design by Finn Ross and Adam Young, the stage is bathed in brilliant colors using digital projections to effect seamless and rapid transitions from one scene to another.

Aided by set pieces that the performers smoothly roll onto the stage and in place with precision, the projections allow the scenes to change from a high school corridor to a multitude of classrooms, a lavatory, cafeteria, gym, a bedroom, a shopping mall and other locales, literally in a blink of an eye. This is an extraordinary technical achievement and is worth the price of admission to experience it.

Cady Heron (played by English Berhardt) has moved to the Chicago suburb from Kenya where her biologist parents home-schooled her. Naïve Cady realizes that she was not even noticed let alone accepted by the kids at North Shore High School until Janis Sarkisian (Lindsey Heather Pearce) and Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) befriend her. In the cafeteria they point out to Cady the school’s eclectic cliques—jocks, nerds, sex maniacs, freaks among others—and then ultimately describe The Plastics—Regina George (Nadina Hassan), the leader; Gretchen Wieners (Jasmine Rogers), the second in command; and Karen Smith (Morgan Ashley Bryant), not the brightest star in the universe.

"...nothing less than a dazzling spectacle..."

Janis had an unpleasant history with Regina, and as a means to revenge, she encouraged Cady to accept The Plastics’ invitation to sit with them for a week in the cafeteria in order to spy on them and feed Janis with information she can use against her.

As the members of The Plastics reveal their own individual personalities and character, Cady using cattiness and mean tricks maneuvered to eventually oust Regina as the number one Plastic and emerge as a popular force in the school.

Along the way, she became smitten with a talented and good-looking math student Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter) who liked the more innocent version of Cady as opposed to what she eventually became.

Cady's friendship with Janis became a casualty as well, as Cady progressed up the social ladder.

On brand with their meanness, The Plastics had compiled a “burn book” whereby photos of classmates were pasted in with nasty and mean comments included. The revelation of this book provides the turning point in the plot and the road to redemption and forgiveness was eventually paved at the school's Spring Fling.

As Cady, English Bernhardt is convincing as the once naïve student who rose to the top of the social ladder and ultimately recognizing that hurting people was not the proper means to reach that goal. She is an exceptional math student and had resisted until the end to be part of the Mathletes math team. She had been warned by The Plastics that if she joined such a group, she would experience “social suicide.” Her mezzo-soprano vocals shine in such numbers as “Stupid with Love,” “Apex Predator” and “More is Better” and in her solo “Fearless.”

Lindsey Heather Pearce as Janis possesses fine acting skills in portraying her complex character. Janis’ relationship with Regina was once friendly until the latter spread rumors that Janice was a lesbian forcing her to drop out of school at one point. Recognizing the ills of The Plastics, she tried to steer Cady away from the group’s influence.

Ms. Pearce has an amazingly powerful voice, which is evident in several numbers including “Apex Predator,” “Revenge Party” and the superb “I’d Rather Be Me.”

Nadina Hassan is adept in portraying The Plastics’ leader Regina George. Wealthy with a “cool mom” (Mary Beth Donahoe on the night this performance was reviewed), Regina’s cruelty and meanness is evident throughout and an unlikely and near fatal encounter with a school bus (very well done by the technical crew) altered her outlook for the better.  As she engaged in reconciliation with Cady, Regina pointed out that she was “dead” for 15 seconds and offered her spoiler alert that heaven was a large hotel in Miami. I think the name of each touring city should be inserted as applicable rather than Miami at each stop. Audiences love local flavor.

 Ms. Hassan sang well in “Someone Gets Hurt” and “World Burn.”

Jasmine Rodgers played the insecure second-in-command Gretchen as a member of The Plastics. She delved into the world secrets and divulged Regina’s secrets to help deal with her insecurity.  Ms. Rogers showcased her lovely voice in one of the few solos in the show, the moving “What’s Wrong with Me?”

In a comedic role, adorable Morgan Ashley Bryant performs exceptionally as the third member of The Plastics, Karen Smith. Essentially vapid and dumb, Karen is loveable and easily manipulated. Ms. Bryant handles the comedic role with impeccable timing and displays her fine vocals in “Sexy.”

My favorite character of all is Damian, and not just because “he is too gay to function” as he was
dubbed. Played brilliantly by Eric Huffman, Damian is the only character in the show who seems totally comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t need to pretend to be anybody else. This is both refreshing and surprising that an openly gay high school student is not the target of bullies and seems so together.

Mr. Huffman is blessed to have the lion's share of the funny quips and carries the comedic role to perfection. He is also a splendid vocalist "Where Do You Belong?" "Revenge Party" and dancer in the rousing opening production number of the second act "Stop" displaying his tap dancing chops. 

Other notable performers include the aforementioned Mary Beth Donohoe and Adante Carter, Kabir Berry and Iain Young as well as a terrific ensemble.

This fast-paced production of Mean Girls featuring an extremely talented cast, exceptional choreography and singing performances and an eye-pleasing, mind-boggling set, makes this a must-see experience. The ultimate message of being kind to one another hits the mark as well.

 Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Mean Girls runs through July 17 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Baltimore Hippodrome.

 Photos: Jenny Anderson

Monday, July 11, 2022

Don't Trade Trey Mancini

Well, lookie here! The Baltimore Orioles, baseball’s perennial doormats for the past five years, find themselves in the midst of a Wild Card chase. As of July 13, the team is carrying a 10-game winning streak—the longest such success since Bill Clinton was president—into St. Petersburg to face the Ray's prior to the All-Star break.  

They are now one game over .500 following a string of seasons whereby they lost well over 100 games each.

While the fan base in Baltimore is experiencing a renewed sense of joy, the enthusiasm has been tempered by the rumors that their stalwart leader, Trey Mancini, may be on the block at the trading deadline come early August. He’s a free agent after this year, and the Orioles, still reeling from the devastating Chris Davis contract extension under previous management, has been loath to sign players long term at a steep price.

The O’s current management spearheaded by GM Mike Elias needs to put the notion of trading Mancini deep in their back pocket and find other ways to strengthen the franchise.

Mancini is a true leader in the clubhouse and revered by his teammates like no other. At age 30 and the longest tenured Oriole, younger Birds flock to him for advice and mentorship. A loss could disrupt the strong chemistry the team is enjoying for the first time in quite a while.

More importantly, trading Mancini would deal a major blow to the fan base, which has finally seen a light at the end of the tunnel with their beloved team. He is arguably the most popular Oriole and for good reason.

In 2020 Mancini announced he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and accordingly missed that Covid-truncated season following surgery and six months of chemotherapy treatments.

He returned to the Orioles’ lineup in 2021 and was a big run producer. He appeared in the All Star Game’s Homerun Derby, though not named to the all-star team, and fought his way to battle the incomparable Mets slugger Pete Alonso in the final round only to come in second.

I would have preferred to see Mancini take the mic at the All Star game the next night at Denver’s Coors Field to introduce MLB’s traditional Stand Up to Cancer moment.

“Good evening. I am Trey Mancini of the Baltimore Orioles, and I fought cancer and I won.” How inspirational would that have been! It would have been a moment for the ages, drenched in emotion, but alas, it did not happen.

Appropriately, Mancini captured the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2021 and is performing at a high level in 2022 leading the team in batting average.

Attendance at Orioles games has been below par to say the least over these past few years. They seem to draw only when articles of clothing are given out, such as floppy hats and Hawaiian shirts. I do believe that attendance will increase markedly should the team continue their strong play and compete for a playoff spot.   

Trading Trey Mancini will not further that end—in the clubhouse, on the field and in the stands. Let’s see what happens after the season. Perhaps, Mancini will sign with the O’s at a hometown discount. Maybe not. But let’s not destroy the renewed good vibes from yesteryear and allow the season play out.

Don’t trade Mancini.

NOTE: This post is has been updated to reflect the Orioles' winning streak, which stands at 10.