Love her or hate her — or both.
Regina George, the pink-wearing, Burn Book-leaking, cranberry juice cocktail-drinking popular girl in Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls,” was one of the most notable characters to emerge from the early Aughts. Played by Rachel McAdams, George was the antagonist to Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron — the new girl at North Shore High who, along with outsiders Janis Ian and Damian Leigh, makes it her personal mission to take down the female clique known as The Plastics.
“Mean Girls” portrayed some of the most complex — and appalling — parts of the high school experience with a comedic mastery so tight, it continues to be culturally relevant nearly 15 years after its release. “She doesn’t even go here,” “On Wednesdays we wear pink” and “You go, Glenn Coco” are just some of the highly quotable moments that have been reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, jewelry, pillows, you name it. And starting today, some — if not all — will reappear in Fey’s Broadway adaptation of the beloved movie.
The “Mean Girls” musical stars Erika Henningsen as Cady Heron, Ashley Park as Gretchen Wieners, Kate Rockwell as Karen Smith, Barrett Wilbert as Janis Sarkisian, Grey Henson as Damian Hubbard and Kyle Selig as high school heartthrob Aaron Samuels. Taylor Louderman, of “Bring It On: The Musical” and “Kinky Boots,” is Regina George.
“I never played the bad guy before — I’ve done a lot of sweet roles, so I really wanted to try my hand at that,” she says. “My high school experience, and I think a lot of people feel this way, was complicated and intense and I learned a lot about female relationships during that time. I would say I’m still reflecting on it.”
Louderman hails from a small town in Missouri called Bourbon, “where the cattle population exceeds the human population.” She grew up on Shirley Temple movies and “Annie,” and has been involved in theater since she was 10 years old. Like many Millennials, she’s watched “Mean Girls” “a million times” and, like many of its fans, was both horrified and entertained by Regina George’s character.
The Broadway version, in previews now, maintains the same plot as the film. Book writer Fey was around “every day,” according to Louderman and Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond, wrote the music.
“One of the things Tina [Fey] recognizes, and this is why I idolize her so much, is that the show has sort of a moral opportunity to teach young women — maybe sometimes grown women and men for that matter — that we’re safer and happier when we look out for one another, even if we may have differences that we don’t like,” Louderman says. “I would say we hit that message a little bit harder, not in a cheesy or sappy way necessarily, but in a really endearing and charming way.”
She wasn’t in touch with McAdams during rehearsal — “I’d be too intimidated to reach out to her” — but Louderman has been paying attention to what the original Regina George actress has said about the play. At the Toronto Film Festival in September, McAdams said she hoped to get an invitation to the musical and would love to see it.
Louderman says that in high school, she was “at one point the popular girl and then at one point this theater nerd and at one point the jock.” She was also at one point the new girl and went through a period of social isolation.
“That was super heart-wrenching for me,” she says. “At that age, we don’t know how to deal with anger or conflict in a straightforward, healthy way. The judgment and the competition can create a lot of resentment and anxiety. That can manifest itself in some really unhealthy social dynamics. I was definitely a part of a clique and we all had our friend groups, but I tried really hard to branch out and be friends with a lot of people. There is power in having a friend group because you have this bond that helps you navigate girl world and it creates safety and self-esteem. But if you speak up to the leader, you risk that social isolation or not having a group and feeling really left out.”
Unlike the halls of the fictional North Shore High, “Mean Girls” the musical offered Louderman a sense of fellowship — literally. She and castmates Henningsen (Cady) and Park (Gretchen) attended the University of Michigan together, and Louderman knew Rockwell (Karen) from her very first Broadway show. This familiarity with one another paired with Fey’s expertise helped lighten the load of starring in a version of a movie that has essentially become pop culture required reading.
“I try to keep it light and fun because it’s a lot of pressure to put on this huge production that Tina Fey is doing,” Louderman says. “It’s an incredible opportunity so it can get scary at times and it can feel like, ‘OK there’s gonna be a lot of judgment coming our way,’ but it’s so important to have each others’ back. I know I need the support. I feel so grateful to be surrounded by people who feel the same way, where the show is the priority and it’s not about us as individuals.”