Only at Pacific Palisades High School, could you experience a Broadway caliber musical, without having to leave town.
Mean Girls opened tonight, October 5 at Mercer Hall. This show is exceptional on several levels, starting with the talent.
Director Nancy Fracciholla had a tough choice in selecting the leads because the school is so deep in talent. It’s no accident that PaliHi students are accepted into top theater art programs in the country.
Janis Sarkisian (Delaney Hutchinson) and Damian Hubbard (Theo King), who have exceptional voices, invite the audience on Cady’s journey with A Cautionary Tale.
Mean Girls tells the story of Cady Heron (River Tharae), who grew up on an African savanna, where her parents were scientists. When the family moves to suburban Illinois, Cady attends public school and is totally naïve to the politics of teenage girls, particularly “the Plastics.”
The most popular girls, “the Plastics” are led by Regina George (Annika Johansson) with her foils Gretchen Wieners (Ella White) and Karen Smith (Ingrid Knap). Will they accept Cady into the group? Does Cady want to belong?
Knap who plays Karen, who is supposed to be dumber than dumb, is absolutely hysterical. Johansson, who plays the lead Plastic, handles her role with aplomb. White, as Wieners, tries to understand where she fits in. The three are a force on stage, and all are vocally remarkable.
Tharae, as Cady, moves from a “bumpkin” to the lead “Plastic” as she learns how to navigate the “animals” in public school.
She has a crush on heart-throb Aaron Samuels (Cyrus Hemmens), but doesn’t realize that he was Regina’s ex—and off-limits to all females.
The closing number I See Stars has the high school juniors, Damian, Janis, Gretchen, Karen, Aaron and Regina, once again becoming friends.
The choreography by Hazel Clarke is skillful and imaginative, particularly given the small stage. Dancers include Logan Christopher (dance captain), Sage Denham, Maayn Friedenberg, Eva Hefner, Mia Harrington, Noa Hodges, Vanessa Masterson, Finn Nance and Emma Stephens.
Not only is the talent top-notch, the 12-piece orchestra under Michael Sobie is impressive. Sobie works in the industry, and has come to work with high school students, specifically for this musical. Professional drummer Satoshi Kirisawa is also part of the orchestra. Allowing high school students access to professionals while performing is invaluable.
Finally, the set is incredible. It seemed to be a projection on the wall that changed with each scene. CTN asked about it at intermission because it was so visually striking and automatically built the mood for each scene.
It was actually LED Walls, provided by the company 4Walls. It allowed the set to move from the African savanna to school rooms, to a house party – and at some point, there were stars, hearts and fire erupting on the walls.
One person noted that this set was probably more “carbon” friendly because generally once sets are built, they can not be repurposed. In this case, the entire set was generated by images. Super interesting.
This show is a must see for four reasons: the talent, the orchestra, the set and of course the messaging.
“As a huge fan of Tina Fey, I am very excited to bring this show to Pali. It’s message could not be more important for young women,” Fracchiolla said.
The 2004 Tina Fey Film Mean Girls is based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, and the musical opened on Broadway in 2018, but closed 2020 because of Covid. A film adaption of the musical will be released in January 2024 – but why wait to see the film when you can see an exceptional performance locally?
Additional performances are October 7 at 6 p.m. and October 8, 12, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. at Mercer Hall, 15777 Bowdoin Street. Ticket prices: Students ($10), general admission ($17) and VIP ($25). For tickets click here.