Are you a late 20- to early-30-something excited to see “Mean Girls: The Musical?” (Is butter a carb? The answer to both questions: Yes.)
Get in, loser, we’re going to the theater. The show’s tryout run at the National Theatre began previews Tuesday, and it has its formal opening night Nov. 19 . But there’s a 30 percent chance it’s already grool (I meant to say “cool” but then I started to say “great”).
Every few years there’s a definitive high school movie that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be an American teen: In 1982, it was “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”; in 1985, “The Breakfast Club”; in 1995, “Clueless.” And in 2004, it was “Mean Girls,” the Tina Fey-penned story of Cady Heron, played by a pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan. Cady is a home-schooled girl who has recently moved to the United States from Africa. Now in high school for the first time, she must learn to survive among the cliques of “unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks,” and the Plastics, a fearsome trio that’s popular, pretty and mean — queen bee Regina George, rich girl Gretchen Wieners and sweet-but-dumb Karen Smith.
“Mean Girls” is about teenage morality, and being true to yourself, and the eternal quest to make “fetch” happen. (It’s not going to happen.) The movie has endured the test of time because it’s so true, and because it’s so endlessly quotable. For 13 years, we’ve been saying “Boo, you whore” and reminding people that Wednesdays is when we wear pink, and cheering for Glen Coco. (You go, Glen Coco!) Are all of these jokes going over your head? Then sorry, you can’t sit with us.
The movie is a frequent reference point in pop culture. “Mean Girls” fans celebrate Oct. 3 — the day Cady’s crush, Aaron, asked her what day it was — as Mean Girls Day. Mariah Carey has a song reportedly based on one of Regina’s lines: “Why are you so obsessed with me?” Some have used the “Mean Girls” cast and plot to explain the hierarchy of the Trump presidency. When he was president, Barack Obama posted a photo of one of his dogs with a tennis ball in its mouth, with the caption: “Bo, stop trying to make fetch happen.”
Its fandom runs deep, to the point of obsession. There are all-black and all-gay parodies. There are blog posts devoted to solving the calculus problems in the movie’s many math class scenes. There are accessories that riff on some of the best lines, such as a barrette imprinted with “full of secrets.” (That’s why her hair is so big.)
But high school and technology have changed since the publication of “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” the 2002 Rosalind Wiseman book on which the film was based. “Mean Girls” the movie is now a period piece. It takes place before texting and Yik Yak and Snapchat, the much more targeted and vicious methods of bullying today. The scene in which Regina and Gretchen gang up on Cady for the surprise three-way call is almost quaint — they’re on landlines. The Burn Book, the Plastics’ notebook filled with gossip about their classmates, would have been on Instagram.
The musical version, which is headed to Broadway after its run at the National, has been brought up to date with current technology, but that may change the story in unexpected ways, making many fans nervous. What other parts of the beloved movie, which admirers can practically recite by heart, will inevitably be sacrificed? Please, not Kevin G.’s rap. Don’t take away Coach Carr’s sex-ed class, a perfect representation of the abstinence-only curriculum (“Don’t have sex, ’cause you will get pregnant and die”). Whatever happens, it can’t possibly be as disastrous as the Plastics’ performance in the North Shore High School winter talent show . . . could it?
But this isn’t a regular musical — it’s a cool musical . Even if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t get the references — if you don’t even go here! — you won’t feel too left out. Because here’s the thing about “Mean Girls”: It’s full of life lessons intended for high-schoolers but that are especially relevant to adults today. As the misfit character Janis Ian tells Cady: “There are two kinds of evil people. People who do evil stuff, and people who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.”
And even though the movie is the source of many memes, it’s the themes that are eternal: Everyone yearns to belong. Everyone remembers the shame and confusion of high school. Everyone has said things they aren’t particularly proud of. Everyone has tried on a few different identities, slipping them on and off as if they were a Mathletes jacket, before figuring out who they really are.
So no matter what happens onstage at the National Theatre and on Broadway, there’s a good chance it will end like the North Shore High School spring fling — with everyone getting a little piece of something they want. When it comes to “Mean Girls” devotion, the limit does not exist.