Mean Girls musical West End review – razor-sharp cautionary tale burns bright

The London production is now officially open at the Savoy Theatre

Charlie Burn (as Cady), Elèna Gyasi (as Gretchen), Georgina Castle (as Regina) and Grace Mouat (as Karen) in the West End production of Mean Girls
Charlie Burn (as Cady), Elèna Gyasi (as Gretchen), Georgina Castle (as Regina) and Grace Mouat (as Karen) in Mean Girls, © Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Mean Girls, a cautionary musical tale of high school rivalries, corruption and betrayal, wrapped in a very pretty pink bow, has taken six years to get from Broadway to London – but its energy and impact are undiminished by the wait.

Its main asset is that it is written by Tina Fey, who also wrote the 2004 movie on which it was based and went on to find broader fame as the creator and star of 30 Rock. This means that it has a book as corrosive as acid but much funnier. For example. “I want to change your eyebrows,” barks controlling apex predator Regina to her acolyte Karen. “Can I still have two?” asks Karen, trotting along obediently. Or: “Rich blonde women love pity because it’s so hard for them to get.”

Many of the jokes are lifted from the movie and produce a purr of approval from the audience. Others are introduced to bring the story bang up to date in a world of social media. “Always crop your head off in nudes,” advises Karen. “I find the boys really don’t mind.” They sweep the story about wide-eyed Cady Heron who arrives at North Shore High from isolation in Kenya and is caught up in a world of brittle friendships and the need to be popular along on a wave of wit.

The problem is that the songs, with music by Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond and lyrics by Nell Benjamin, are syrupy where the script is sharp. They aren’t unattractive but they don’t have much style, and they crucially extend the show from a snappy 90-odd minutes to a slightly sagging two and a half hours. It remains essentially wise and very likeable, but it’s less potent than it might be.

Scott Pask’s scenic design does its best to help, whipping the action through multiple settings in super-quick time with the help of Finn Ross and Adam Young’s video projections which switch seamlessly from interior to exterior, from school to fluffy pink bedrooms. When the Plastics arrive, led by the waspish Regina George, who determines everyone’s status and happiness, the stage turns brilliant pink.

Katrina Lindsay’s costumes add to the fun with a perfect replication of high school couture – and Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography keep the tone brightly cartoonish and fast-paced.

The performances, too, are a pleasure. Georgina Castle is wonderfully spiteful as Regina, and Elèna Gyasi brilliantly neurotic as the hapless Gretchen, constantly undermined by her own insecurities. But the standout Plastic is Grace Mouat as Karen, who introduces herself by saying “I may not be smart” and goes on to prove it in a sequence of brilliantly-timed blank interventions. Her performance of “Sexy” at the Halloween party, where she suddenly has to wheel herself round because she realises she is facing the wrong way, is a comic joy.

The action is framed by scenes introduced by the freaks and geeks, which is odd structurally but gives Tom Xander’s “almost too gay to function” Damian and Elena Skye’s arty Janis more scope for wry observation and commentary; Charlie Burn as Cady and Daniel Bravo as her heartthrob Aaron are admirably direct and emotional amidst all the mayhem; Zoë Rainey has a lot of fun as a multitude of female characters.

All the skill involved makes it hard not to succumb. This is a genuinely enjoyable show with its heart in the right place: though might last just a tad too long.

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Mean Girls

Final performance: 16 February 2025