by Robert E. Martin
To properly tickle your funny bone while warming your heart before Valentine’s Day, the Midland Center is proudly presenting the national Broadway touring company for the record-breaking new musical comedy Mean Girls, which will be appearing at the Center on Friday & Saturday, February 9th & 10th.
This hilarious and energetic musical, which critics have describe as a tart but sweet crossbreed of Heathers and Hairspray features a book by nine-time Emmy Award winner Tina Fey, based upon her screenplay for the film, music by three-time Emmy winner Jeff Richmond; lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominee Neil Benjamin, and original direction and choreography by two-time Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw.
With a narrative that tells the tale of Cady Heron, who after years of living with her zoologist parents while growing up on an African savanna, suddenly finds herself unprepared for the wild and vicious ways of her strange new hometown when she moves to suburban Illinois and must find a place where she fits in the social hierarchy.
A sweet, naïve newbie, Cady quickly attracts the attention of ‘The Plastics’ - a trio of lionized freind-enemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George. When Cady devises a plan to end Regina’s reign, she learns the hard way that you can’t cross a Queen Bee without also getting stung.
Given that Fey is one of the sharpest comic writers in America, 'Mean Girls' takes a look at friendships—and human nature—through a ferociously funny lens; and recently The REVIEW had a chance to chat with Emily Ann Stys, who performs as Swing & Dance Captain for this national touring production, and has also worked in national Broadway touring productions for Rock of Ages, Saturday Night Fever, An American in Paris, Wet Side Story, and Beauty & the Beast in the Disney Dream opening cast, to name but a few!
Emily says she spent lots of time dancing while growing up and says while she also loves singing, it was her deep love of dance and her talent for singing which led her naturally into the Theatre program at Oakland University, where she graduated back in 2013.
“I got very lucky with some very great connections through Oakland University and grew up in the Rochester/Romeo area of Michigan,” she explains. “After graduation I hit the boards running to New York City and while I loved singing, I came out to New York as a dancer first and started really training professionally. I credit a lot of my ability to the training I got growing up, and because I’m so versatile in terms of my abilities as a singer and a dancer, I was able to perform in a wide range of shows, which is why my resume goes all over the place.”
As the Dance Captain for Mean Girls, Emily says her role is to take over maintenance of the touring show from the choreographer and director.
“Essentially, I function as a stage manager and am left with creative guidelines to follow. I’m in charge of understudies and swing performers and run rehearsals so all the actors and performers understand their tracking and all the elements of the production; plus sometimes cast members do a job for so long they need a bit of a brush-up; or if we get a new cast member and somebody has to leave the show, I’m in charge of training the replacement by teaching them the show I was taught by the director and choreographer.”
Having worked on so many amazing Broadway touring productions, what is it about Mean Girls that Emily feels distinguishes it from other contemporary Broadway musicals and makes it truly stand out?
“I think the magic is in the way it’s been adopted to the stage,” she reflects. “The original movie with Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan was just a movie, and then Tina adapted it for Broadway by adding songs and changing some things internally with the show, and now a new movie will be coming out that is an adaptation of this Broadway musical, so I think what really resonates with Mean Girls is that it’s female focused.”
“It’s about older women, younger women, and peer connections,” she continues, “and one of the wonderful things Mean Girls does is bring female characters to the frontline."
"Because of the way Tina Fey wrote the book for our show its funny, poignant, and also very nostalgic. I grew up watching the original movie of Mean Girls when I was younger, and now they are marketing a new movie to this new generation of teens and tweens and young adults, so in that sense its become culturally significant for nearly 20 years now. It’s one of those shows that grow and evolve with the times for a new generation, and in doing so become timeless.”
As to whether there are particular challenges involved with Mean Girls that are different from other musicals she’s been involved with, Emily says there are a lot of internal pieces involved with the production that can make it tricky to maneuver.
“There’s a lot of tricky choreography involved with the Cafeteria scene, especially with moving all the tables while simultaneously dancing; and also with swinging the show which contains seven different tracts. For me I train all six of the ensemble women, plus the Mom and the teacher, so what’s interesting is that I go from playing a 15-year old to an adult woman, and there is much happening in the numbers, with characters constantly running around, so when we swing the show I sit on the sidelines and if someone needs me I swing in, which can be crazy swinging into that many tracks back-to-back.”
Emily says the cast will perform six to eight shows a week and that this touring production is coming up on 100 performances since it opened in September.
“Touring is a unique part of our industry and our days are usually spent traveling, which can be exhausting but is fulfilling in its own right because we see so many towns and people. It rejuvenates us and we know we’re going to be visiting some pretty awesome places.”
“I practice and swing every day and will find rehearsal rooms to run the show in time and make sure everything stays in flow and that our bodies are tight and synchronized, just to make sure everybody is in shape and ready to go,” adds Emily.
“A lot of this choreography is very low to the ground because there are a lot of references to the jungle and the hierarchy of animals, so there is a lot of lower movement involved.
“What makes this touring production of Mean Girls so appealing is that not only are the performers in this cast incredible vocalists, but the story telling is wonderful and it spans generations."
"As I mentioned earlier, having been around since the release of the original movie, it’s actually being performed by regional theatre companies now and even though its about high schoolers. it has an appeal to older generations as much as it is relevant to the modern generation right now.”
Tickets for ‘MEAN GIRLS’ are available online at www.midlandcenter.org, by calling (989) 631-8250, or by visiting the box office located at 1801 W. St. Andrews Rd., Midland.
9th February, 2024