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.
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.
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.
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.
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