Homophobia. Tyranny. The dangers of school bullying.
There are issues tied to the current political climate — but they were also portrayed with remarkable acumen in Mean Girls, released in 2004.
Directed by Mark Waters and written by Tina Fey, the film was inspired in part by Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees and Wannabes, an anthropoligcal study of high school cliques and their impact on teenage girls. As a result, the movie was a clever social commentary, which also clearly resonated with viewers. In 2014, a decade after its release, it was prounounced a classic due to its many quotable lines of "word vomit" ("You go, Glen Coco!" "That's so fetch!") as well as the star power of the young Lindsay Lohan, who as Cady became every outsider navigating the often precarious strata of "girl world."
Mean Girls also holds a special place in the hearts of queer people, who as outsiders related to Cady and her struggle to fit in. That's not to mention the presence of a gay character, Damian, as well as the antigay slurs used to bully and exclude; "Janis Ian is a dyke" and "too gay to function" were in the "burn book," a list of cruel notations written by the popular clique known as the Plastics.
In 2017, this influence and relevance endures, as evidenced by perhaps the film's queerest interpretation yet, The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Mean Gurlz at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Angeles.
In the tradition of UMPO shows, Mean Gurlz melds the main plot of the film with song-and-dance numbers from popular music, which in and of itself amplifies the production's camp sensibilities. Aaron Samuels (Jason Michael Snow and Michael Thomas Grant) seranades new girl Cady (Bianca Gisselle) with Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning." Ms. Norburry croons Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" as she counsels her students on clique culture.
But in Mean Gurlz, the story is told by a fanboy played by Ryan O'Connor, who narrates the story with a "few tweaks and polishes," which work to empower its queer characters. In this imagining, Damian (Andy Arena) has his chance to shine at the talent show, with a complete and soulful rendition of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." The character of Janis Ian — who in the film fell from social graces due to lesbian rumors — is now a queer avenging angel (E.K. Dagenfield, in drag) bent on ruining Regina (How to Get Away With Murder's Corbin Reid) and watching Carol with Cady. And as the title implies, RuPaul's Drag Race references and tongue pops abound.
The production might have once been called "too gay to function," yet function it does, providing hilarity and also new insights into how the high school hierarchy of Mean Girls is a potent political allegory. "Regina George is worse than Donald Trump," says the narrator in one of many humorous references. And as the audience members laugh at Gretchen Weiners's breakdown in the face of Regina's rule — "Why should Caesar get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet?" — they also feel her pain.
Politics aside, the cast of the Mean Gurlz production includes several LGBT performers, who shared their insights with The Advocate as to why the story still appeals to queer audience members.
Actor Michael Thomas Grant argued that intersectionality might be a factor in this draw, as queer men can relate to and celebrate "strong and flawed women."
"Finding strength in spite of, or because of, one's perceived femininity is a shared journey for a lot of us," Grant said. "I really appreciate that Mean Girls takes it one step further, though, by not only recognizing that our search for strength can harbor resentment and alpha-beta, cliquey communities, but also, in the end, teaching people that those behaviors can be tempered with a little honesty, community, and communication with those who've had a similar struggle."
"It also holds true that if you stop being friends with someone because you think they're a lesbian, you most likely deserve to be hit by a bus," he said.
Tye Blue, the director of Mean Gurlz, added that, despite gains in visibility and rights, there is still a mean streak in some LGBT people that can cause divisiveness as well as its own clique culture.
"There is still much work to be done within our own community. Even though we can get married and trans is out front and drag is winning Emmys, we are still pretty mean to each other," Blue said. "The slightly overweight, 'average'-looking newbie at the bar can still identify with Cady, Janis, and Damian, while the athletic, homogenized wonder cliques still feel, to me anyway, very much like the Plastics."
"There's a lot of compassion and empathy still to be found in our own culture. Fingers crossed!" he concluded on a hopeful note.
Mean Gurlz, which assures all audience members "you can sit with us," was written by Kate Pazakis and Joseph Gonzalez, and directed by Tye Blue, with musical direction by Gregory Naboursruns. It runs through April 15 at Rockwell Table and Stage.