“The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Mean Gurlz” Reviewed by Dan Berkowitz

A few confessions right off the bat:

1. I have never seen the movie Mean Girls, which, not surprisingly, is the basis for The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Mean Gurlz – which means virtually everyone else in the audience probably got about 100,000 more in-jokes than I did; and

2. I’m not a follower of popular music, which means when virtually everyone else in the audience was singing along with the score to the show, I was sitting there dumb (in more ways than one).

So you’d think I wouldn’t like it, right? Wrong. The good news is that The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Mean Gurlz – one of a series of musical takeoffs of popular films – is ferociously entertaining, even for someone as clueless as I am.

For those of you who, like me, never saw the movie: Cady (Nicci Claspell), who’s been home-schooled in Africa by her zoologist parents, returns with her family to the U.S., where she enrolls in a public high school in Evanston, IL. A clique of “mean girls” called the Plastics, headed by Queen Bee Regina (Corbin Reid) and including rich, insecure Gretchen (Natalie Lander) and airhead Karen (Janelle Lillian), rule the roost, while gender-fluid Goth Janis Ian (E. K. Dagenfield) and gay boy Damian (Andy Arena) are among the outcasts.

Corbin Reid (L) and Natalie Lander. Photo: Bryan Carpender


Andy Arena (L) and E. K. Dagenfield. Photo: Bryan Carpender

The Plastics initially are interested in Cady, and ask her to eat lunch with them – the ultimate compliment – but teen tensions soon rear their ugly heads. Cady falls for Aaron (Michael Thomas Grant), Regina’s ex-boyfriend, which causes Regina to steal him back, which in turn leads Cady to throw in her lot with Janis’s plan of revenge against Regina (for something…) which includes, among other tactics, persuading Regina to eat protein bars which cause her to gain a huge amount of weight – probably the worst thing that could happen to one of The Plastics. The best sight gag of the show is Ms Reid’s entrance in the second act, after having gained enough weight to make her look like “the Michelin man.”

There’s also a book – the “Burn Book” – which seems to have a lot to do with everything, but I never quite figured out why. Oh well, never mind.

The whole saga is related to us by a Narrator (Ryan O’Connor) who shows up every now and then to fill in the gaps and make bitchy comments; the cast is rounded out by Katharine Tokarz – also the show’s inventive choreographer – who plays several roles, including Ms Norbury, the nerdy math teacher.

Ryan O’Connor. Photo: Bryan Carpender


L-R: Corbin Reid, Katherine Tokarz, and Natalie Lander. Photo: Bryan Carpender

The cast is uniformly strong, both in the acting and the singing – when everyone sings together, as in the rousing finale, the joyful sound almost blows the roof off the room. In fact, one could just as easily ignore most of the story and enjoy the performance as a concert: the songs are good, the voices are great, and the onstage band – consisting of Musical Director Gregory Nabours, Blake Estrada, Emily Rosenfield, and Greg Sadler – is terrific.

If I had to single out one moment above the others, it would be the one “serious” segment of the show. Damian’s performance of “Beautiful” in the school’s talent show starts out as a Florence Foster Jenkins-like tuneless parody, but resolves into a moving anthem to those who are considered “different,” beautifully sung by Mr. Arena.

Andy Arena. Photo: Bryan Carpender

Add to all of this that Rockwell Table and Stage is as close to a sophisticated supper club/ dinner theatre as you’ll find in the area, and you can enjoy a complete evening: the food is very good, there’s a full bar, and every table has a little button you can press at any time. Within a few moments, a server will appear to bring you another cocktail, a burger, or a plate of Captain Crunch onion rings.

Director Tye Blue has drilled the performers with military precision: you know you’re in the hands of well-rehearsed professionals who will never let the show sag, even for a moment. Mr. Blue also cleverly uses the entire space, not just the postage-stamp-sized stage and the “runway” into the audience. Characters pop up all over the place – sitting on the bar, perched above tables, posed in niches along the walls – often interacting with audience members. The best such moment was when Ms Reid grabbed a plate of fries from in front of one of the people at my table, and sauntered down the runway, stuffing them into her mouth – not to worry, a fresh plate was delivered to the table shortly after. Fair warning, though: if you don’t want actors plopping down on your lap, don’t sit right next to the runway.

Michael Thomas Grant and Corbin Reid. Photo: Bryan Carpender

The show’s not without flaws. Since the performers are all wearing microphones – meaning the sound comes out of speakers, not where their mouths necessarily are – it occasionally can be difficult to know where to look: you hear a line, but can’t immediately see who’s saying it, and you wind up craning your neck to find who’s talking and where he or she is in the room. Meanwhile, you’ve lost part of the line.

And speaking of amplification, performers need to realize that while it makes you louder, it also distorts what you’re saying – or singing. Which means that when you’re wearing a mic, especially when singing, enunciation is even more important than when you’re not. Too many of the song lyrics were (to me anyway) simply incomprehensible. On the other hand, if I were like much of the audience, and knew the songs by heart, I suppose it wouldn’t matter.

But these are minor cavils. The talent, energy, and infectious enthusiasm of the cast is enough to give everyone, even a clueless guy like me, a good time. And speaking of Clueless, I wish I’d seen the Unauthorized Musical Parody of that…

The Unauthorized Musical Parody of: Mean Gurlz
Written by Kate Pazackis and Joseph Gonzalez
Directed by Tye Blue

Through April 15

Rockwell Table & Stage
1714 North Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tickets: 323-669-1550 or www.rockwell-LA.com


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