The “Mean Girls” Creative Team. From left to right: Casey Nicholaw, Tina Fey, Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin.Jenny AndersonLike films Heathers and Clueless, Tina Fey’s 2004 comedy Mean Girls spoke to the confusing, sometimes alienating experience of being a teenage girl. Filled to the brim with snappy one-liners, it managed to be funny, relatable, empathetic and warm, all rolled into one pink-hued plastic package. And if you grew up in the 2000s, you likely watched it a dozen times at sleepovers. 

You know the story: Homeschooler Cady Heron grew up on the African savanna. But when her family moves to suburban Illinois, she enters an entirely different and unforgiving ecosystem, aka a public high school packed with cliques. At the top of the food chain is Regina George, queen of “The Plastics.” With newly-found friends Janis and Damian, Cady embarks on a plan to dethrone Regina, but the takedown proves to be a messy feat. 

The pop-culture juggernaut was given new life as a musical in 2017 and opened on Broadway the following year. Cincinnatians will get a chance to catch the show at the Aronoff Center Nov. 5-17 as part of a national Broadway tour. 

As Gretchen Wieners would say: That’s so fetch! 

Translating the film from the screen to stage was five years in the making for the creative team behindMean Girls The Musical. And, according to composer Jeff Richmond — who also happens to be Fey’s husband — it makes a dream reality for both himself and Fey. 

“Broadway is this shining star that everybody is trying to find their way to,” Richmond says via phone from New York City, “and somewhere along the way, your road diverges into other paths.”

For Fey, that divergence came in the form of Saturday Night Live, numerous films — including Mean Girls — and two successful sitcoms (30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). Richmond, a former music director for SNL, also composed music for both of Fey’s award-winning shows. 

When asked about the collaborative process between himself, Fey (the book writer) and lyricist Nell Benjamin (a two-time Tony-winner), Richmond explains that it was back and forth. They would map out character points together and explore them through song by testing out varying hooks. Benjamin would brainstorm lyrics and send drafts to Richmond, who would flesh them out on the piano before the team reconvened to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Compared to the world of television they were accustomed to, the process was slow-moving. 

“We started by just examining the whole movie again and what made it appeal to such a large audience and look deep within there,” Richmond says. “And what we noticed was that there were characters that probably could sing — and by ‘singing,’ I mean digging a little deeper into the emotional context of those characters.”

Early on, director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw came into the fold; because of Nicholaw’s background in musical theater, Richmond says he was “instrumental” to the process of pinning down what formulaic moments were needed to sustain Mean Girls over two acts, which runs for two-and-a-half hours (including a 15-minute intermission). 

Perhaps the biggest challenge was grappling with the film’s long-standing popularity. In the 15 years since its release, a devoted legion of fans has solidified Mean Girls as a modern cult classic. Richmond says that, in revisiting the script, they ran the risk of alienating fans of the original because certain scenes or lines had to be let go in order to make something fresh. 

“With the musical, we didn’t want to jump in and make a movie onstage,” Richmond says, “we want to be able to dig deeper into some more fun elements and some more emotional elements that we knew that we could do in song (form).” 

Rather than crafting music that falls in line with the popular music of today, each character’s voice stands distinct among the others, in line with the stereotypes they’re labeled as and the traits they embody. It makes sense; in today’s world of streaming, teenagers’ taste in music is not-so homogenous. For the creative team, this choice felt the most truthful.

For example, Richmond explains that Damian — a drama enthusiast and a close friend of Janis who she lovingly describes as “too gay to function” — sings “big, splashy” tracks with Broadway-style flair. Janis, on the other hand, a grungy counterculture teen, is marked by a gruffer, AltRock sound.

“Cliques are very different; they look different and they sound different in high school and so we wanted to be sure that we were representing those in a sound that sounded honest,” Richmond says, adding that they would ask younger people in their office if lyrics sounded in line with how teenagers speak. 

When Fey wrote the film, she based the script both on her own adolescent experiences of attending public high school and on Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabees, which examined behavioral aggression between teen girls.  

“When we revisited it, we thought that all the things that gave us all the anxiety and pain and the aggression that we felt toward people in 2004 — and by people I mean the people we have to see every day in high school or at work — was still the same relationships we felt people would see today,” Richmond says when asked why Mean Girls warranted a revisit. “They still experience the same angst and the same embarrassment and the same anxiety and the same feeling of ‘Oh, do I belong to this group and should I belong to this group?'”

Richmond points out that 15 years later, that kind of behavior has escalated on a much larger scale — politics, daily life and otherwise. But he wants to remind everyone that Mean Girls is still just a big fun comedy. 

“I think the audience is often full of Gretchens,” he says. “And they take so much away… Gretchen has a song (‘What’s Wrong With Me’) that is, like, the most heartfelt song of the show. And you can just look around the room and (see people) go, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s heartbreaking, or that’s me.’ But mostly at the end of the evening, I just want people to realize — and I know I can speak for the entire creative team — we were writing something that we wanted to be really, really funny.” 

Mean Girls runs Nov. 5-17 at the Aronoff Center (650 Walnut St., Downtown). Tickets start at $35. For more info/tickets visit