Even mean girls just want to be loved.
Written for screen and stage by Tina Fey, “Mean Girls” is full of heart, according to one of the lead actresses on the road with the new Broadway tour stopping in Des Moines from Tuesday (10/15) to Oct. 20.
So even those who were targeted by the mean girls in their schools needn’t shy away from the drama unfolding to the bouncy beats in the musical that hit Broadway in 2018, filling its report card with 12 Tony nominations.
“Looking back on girls that were mean in high school or middle school, they’re usually people who are hurting, themselves. They have their own insecurities,” Megan Masako Haley said by phone from the national tour’s first stop in Buffalo, N.Y. She plays Gretchen Wieners, one of the snobby Plastics who rule their suburban Chicago high school.
“I think the show does a really good job of humanizing people and just understanding that everyone does things that hurt,” she said. “That doesn’t make them right, but hurt people hurt people, and bullies are usually people who are dissatisfied with themselves.”
The plot revolves around Cady Heron, who is hit with a giant jolt of culture shock, moving from Kenya to the Midwest. Initially ignored for being “different,” she meets Janis, an artist, and her friend Damian, who can’t stand the Plastics. But when the Plastics invite Cady to sit with them at lunch, Janis urges her to accept — then report back on everything that’s said.
Naturally, plenty of drama and hurt feelings ensue, then spin over the top, until everybody hurts everybody else, before emerging into a brave new world.
Since it’s written by Fey — a brilliant comedian who made the leap from “Saturday Night Live” to penning and starring in television’s “30 Rock,” then writing “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — “Mean Girls” is equal parts whip-smart snark and wisdom.
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“It explores figuring out your place in the world and finding your identity and where you belong,” Haley said. “I feel like it’s really applicable to basically every person on the planet — everyone who’s trying to figure out who they are.”
Haley’s character is the second-in-command to Plastics’ queen bee Regina George. Fraught with her own insecurities, Gretchen masks her feelings behind a smiley face.
“She is very much a follower,” Haley said. “All she wants is to be loved and accepted, and the way that she goes about getting that can be problematic sometimes, hilarious sometimes. She’s just a girl that we’ve all been — someone who is just trying really hard to be loved.”
Gretchen’s journey has its own rewards.
“She starts out as kind of jittery and fragile, but at the same time, trying to appear strong and beautiful and powerful,” Haley said. “Through the course of the show, she figures out that she doesn’t need to be seeking everyone’s approval — she can find some of that for herself, and who she is, without being associated with the superstar of the school.”
Haley finds plenty to like in Gretchen.
“I love that she can be really frank sometimes with her feelings,” Haley said. “She very transparent. She’s trying not to be, but her neuroses show through pretty clearly. And I just love someone who can feel big things.”
Haley can identify with all of the teen turmoil, catchy characters and antsy angst on both sides of the divide. Growing up in San Jose, Calif., she wasn’t part of her school’s ruling realm.
“I was definitely more of a Janis. I was much more like punk rock, do what I want, I don’t care what anyone thinks,” Haley said. “But I did care what everyone thought. When I watched this movie, also when I was in high school, I definitely identified with Janis, so it is kind of funny to be one of the cool girls, because I was definitely not in high school.”
Now 28, she’s enjoying making the grade through a more experienced lens.
“It’s pretty fun to get to live in the space of, like, your whole world being so small but so important,” she said. “And now with a better vantage point looking back, it is so hard to tell a teenage girl this isn’t the end of the world — but it’s continually fun to go back.”
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If you go
• WHAT: “Mean Girls”
• WHERE: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines
• WHEN: Tuesday (10/15) to Oct. 20; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday (10/18), 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (10/19), 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (10/20)
• RUN TIME: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with 15-minute intermission
• TICKETS: $88 to $185; $26 student rush day of show; Civic Center Box Office, (515) 246-2300. or Desmoinesperformingarts.org/events/mean-girls/
• ONLINE: meangirlsonbroadway.com