Mean Girls: From Big-Screen to Stage

A trio of Hollywood high school tales, centering on mean girls, is moving from the big-screen to the stage, with “Heathers” in the midst of a short initial run in Los Angeles, “Jawbreaker” coming off a Gotham workshop, and “Mean Girls” recently announced as a brewing legit project.

The above movie almost form a genre, or at least a subgenre. There has been constant supply of such nasty, darkly humorous tales over the past twenty five years. Question is, why now?

Adolescent bullying, now amplified by social media in ways that could never have been imagined back when “Heathers” was released in 1988, has only grown in the public eye as cause for concern. Which may explain why we see this week a remake of De Palma’s
“Carrie.”

The excessive emotions and high-stakes melodramas of adolescence are easier to translate into the stage productions, because the events provide natural occasions for the characters to erupt into song and dance.

“High school is a natural place to set a musical, because it’s such a heightened world to begin with,” says Darren Stein, who penned the “Jawbreaker” book based on the 1999 picture he wrote and directed.

As sharp-edged comedies, the trio of titles, particularly “Heathers” and “Jawbreaker,” are already stylized takes on the slang and squabbles of teen life, and that storytelling approach also makes them good fodder for tuners.

“Some of the moments that are so memorable in the movie ‘Heathers’ from a language standpoint — lines like, ‘I love my dead gay son’ — also prove to be great starting points for a song,” says Andy Fickman, the stage and film helmer (“Parental Guidance,” “Reefer Madness”). He directed the musical version of “Heathers” at the Hudson Backstage Theater, whose run just ended October 13.

Of the three projects, “Mean Girls” is in the earliest stages, with initial word of the musical version recently trickling out from Tina Fey (who wrote the screenplay and appeared in the movie) and Jeffrey Richmond, the “30 Rock” composer (and Fey’s husband) who is at work on the score. Nell Benjamin, the “Legally Blonde” songwriter whose comedy “The Explorers’ Club” recently had an Off Broadway run, is onboard to write lyrics.

According to Fickman, producers hope one of the next steps for “Heathers” will be a New York bow. For “Jawbreaker,” the Gotham readings Sept. 26-27 were done, Stein says, with an eye toward a regional premiere, as well as an eventual New York berth. “Mean Girls,” meanwhile, is said to be moving forward, but prospects seem further afield.

For now, there is hope that at least one of the titles makes it to New York–or perhaps all three.

“Heathers” (1988)

A popular girl with a conscience and her hot nihilistic boyfriend inadvertently make suicide trendy.

Tuner Team

Music, lyrics, book: Kevin Murphy, Laurence O’Keefe
Director: Andy Fickman
Film creative attached: Screenwriter Daniel Waters, who gave the project his blessing and remains involved in an unofficial capacity

Jawbreaker (1999)
A mean-spirited prank by reigning queen bees turns accidentally murderous.

Tuner Team

Music and lyrics: Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann
Book: Darren Stein
Director: Gabriel Barre
Film Creative Attached: Stein

Mean Girls (2004)

A naive homeschooled transplant gets adopted by the popular crowd and is tempted by the dark side.

Tuner Team

Music: Jeff Richmond
Lyrics: Nell Benjamin
Book: Tina Fey
Film Creative Attached: Fey

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