"Mean Girls" may have tied for the most Tony nominations this year, but heading into the awards ceremony Sunday, the show about a singing queen bee looks like the front-runner in only one category: best book of a musical. The nominee: Tina Fey.
Fey earned kudos for masterfully adapting her 15-year-old film into a fresh musical that keeps pace with teen culture. Land lines may have gone the way of Lindsay Lohan’s career, but the story of “Mean Girls” has gotten a nimble refresh with texting, sexting, tagging and hashtagging. The movie’s cult fans still get the catchphrases they want, but Fey also brings in loads of new wit, wisdom and one-liners.
“If you don’t dress slutty, that’s ‘slut shaming’ us,” goes one a delightfully convoluted new line in a Halloween party scene. (For the Broadway stage, those Halloween costumes take the form of sexy Eleanor Roosevelt, sexy Rosa Parks, sexy Abe Lincoln and even sexy corn.)
Fey steers clear of blatantly teachable moments and amps up the laugh lines. When one character says the “prefrontal cortex isn't fully formed until we're 25,” it’s a parental talking point and a preamble to a showstopper about the hazards of texting while teenage.
Supporting characters in the movie, outsiders Damien and Janis, wisely have been turned into the musical’s narrators, the audience’s cultural guides to the modern American high school. “Too gay to function” Damien has a bigger presence with stage time for song, dance and snark, earning Grey Henson a Tony nomination for featured actor.
As Regina George, the reigning mean girl with malice aforethought, Taylor Louderman is a contender for lead actress in a musical. It’s a category dominated by Katrina Lenk in “The Band’s Visit,” Lauren Ambrose in “My Fair Lady” and Jessie Mueller in “Carousel,” but Louderman nonetheless is delish as the toxic ringleader, the girl who won’t let fetch happen.
Fey’s stiffest competition will be Itamar Moses, who wrote the book for “The Band's Visit,” another film adapted into a musical — a quiet, somber bit of Broadway that’s about as different from “Mean Girls” as anything can be.
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Tony nominations: 12