Billboard on Broadway Podcast: Erika Henningsen & Kate Rockwell Take Us Behind the Scenes of 'Mean Girls'
One of the most talked-about (and Tony-nominated) blockbuster musicals in years, Mean Girls is currently attracting audiences with its refreshing stage update on Tina Fey's cult-hit 2009 movie of the same name. With Fey as bookwriter, her husband Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin writing the zippy music and lyrics, and a cast talented enough to make even die-hard fans of the movie momentarily forget the original Plastics, it garnered an astounding 12 Tony nominations and Fey won the Drama Desk Award for best book of a musical.
As the show continues its run at the August Wilson Theatre, two of its stars -- Erika Henningsen, who plays protagonist Cady, and Kate Rockwell, who plays the delightfully daffy Karen -- stopped by the Billboard on Broadway podcast to chat about what it's like at the center of the Mean Girls universe.
Having starred in shows like Legally Blonde and Bring It On, Rockwell is a veteran of musical comedy, but she still admits that "doing comedy in front of Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels [one of the show's producers] is one of the scariest things I've ever done." For Henningsen, more of a comedy newcomer, the show has taught her that "there's something so communal about comedy, and I think that's why Tina did improv, 'cause it is such a relationship you form between the audience and the performer. In a drama, you don't really know till the end, maybe, if you impacted them -- maybe if there's silence. But laughter is so much more fun than silence!"
The two discuss how Fey gave them the freedom to interpret their characters anew, rather than basing them purely on their characterizations in the movie. As Henningsen notes about Cady, for instance, "In the movie, she operates as a narrator, she has close-ups, you can tell a story with one second of screen time, which you can't do in a musical. ... So Tina and [director] Casey [Nicholaw] were really trying to figure out, how do we make this character the protagonist and the instigator in her own story, as opposed to just responding to outside forces?"
That ability to offer individual takes on their roles was enhanced by Richmond and Benjamin's diversely composed score. "Each character has their own voice," Rockwell says. "Other composers are looking so passionately to create a unified sound, and that's great, but to know that every time a certain theme plays that it connects to me? That is so informative to me as an actor." Henningsen adds: "There are six female leads. If they had tried to write the same for all of us, I don't think any of us would stand out in the incredible way that when you see the show, you remember every single female, and that's a testament to the writing of Nell and Jeff and Tina."
In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, the two recall their auditions, audience reactions each night, and how the show deals with the cultural shifts related to today's social media obsession.