Here’s a simple fact of life for actresses — it’s good to be the bad girl.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Taylor Louderman, laughing. “I feel guilty saying that, but it is.”
Louderman stars as that titan of teen evil, Regina George, in “Mean Girls,” the new Broadway musical based on Tina Fey’s hit 2004 comedy film, which opens at the August Wilson Theatre on Sunday.
Here’s another fact (and, yes, there’ll be a quiz): Art sometimes does imitate life.
That’s true for Erika Henningsen, who plays Cady Heron, the naive new girl in town who tries to take Regina down, a role made famous by Lindsay Lohan on screen, and one that delivers some unexpected parallels to Henningsen’s own life.
The fact that Louderman and Henningsen are archenemies onstage yet pals (and former college classmates) in real life points up yet another fact of show business — not to mention life in general — and a lesson that Regina desperately needs to learn: Be nice to your peers, because you never know when you might need to rely on each other.
Say the title “Mean Girls” to a certain generation, and out tumble favorite phrases with relish: “On Wednesdays we wear pink,” or “That is so fetch,” and its corollary, “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen. It’s not going to happen.”
All those favorites are retained in the new musical, directed by Casey Nicholaw, with a book by Fey, music by Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband) and lyrics by Nell Benjamin. The story has been updated to include facts of life that didn’t exist or have as much influence when Fey wrote the screenplay — things like texting, social media, Beyoncé. But the basic story remains the same, with Cady at first repelled, then seduced, by The Plastics, the most popular clique of “It” girls at her new suburban high school, ruled by the preening, predatory Regina.
“It’s fun to cast away concerns you might have about what other people think about you,” says Louderman about playing Regina. “Personally, I worry about that kind of thing too often, more than I like to admit, anyway.”
The role requires a thicker veneer of confidence than she anticipated. As a result, Louderman finds she’s kinder to herself these days. Missed a day at the gym? Stumbled over lyrics? She tries not to sweat the small stuff, and relies on her co-stars, like Henningsen, for support.
The two share a dressing room, and an alma mater, having first met in 2010 while attending the University of Michigan. “I’m glad she’s right next to me,” Louderman says. “She keeps me sane and strong, and pushes me while still being a great pal. You don’t always get that.”
First Louderman was cast. Then Henningsen. About a month later, fellow Michigan alum Ashley Park called. “She just said, ‘Somebody must be playing a joke on us,’ and I instantly knew — she was in it, too,” Henningsen recalls. Park plays Gretchen Wieners, a member of The Plastics and one of Regina’s most devoted, if insecure, followers.
For these actresses, their shared history fuels their performances. Henningsen fondly recalls being a lowly college freshman and looking up to Louderman and Park, who were both sophomores.
“It’s like coming full circle, getting to play the new girl and have them show me the ropes,” she says, “because that’s basically what they did for me in my first year at college.”
Minus The Plastics’ perverse psychological manipulation, of course.
That teen girls seem to revel in that kind of behavior — and so easily fall victim to it — is the focus of “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” a nonfiction self-help book by educator Rosalind Wiseman and the unlikely source material for the original film. Wiseman, founder of the educational and support group Cultures of Dignity, instructs parents and teachers around the country about today’s vast array of cliques and the shocking levels of intimidation found on high school campuses. It’s Wiseman’s sociological observations, coupled with Fey’s infectious comedy, that give this story added heft.
“I was talking to Taylor about this,” Henningsen says. “I think a reason girls fall into cliques and this tribe mentality at the expense of their own individuality is because they haven’t yet found the thing they love or excel at.”
And what would she advise those girls?
“You’ll never become the person you can be if you keep looking at what others are doing around you or saying about you,” Henningsen says. “The more we get hung up looking from side to side, the less we’re able to move forward.”
MEET THE “MEAN GIRLS” CLASS OF 2018
Most likely to not take herself too seriously
Taylor Louderman (Regina George, queen of The Plastics)
“Tay is just always ready to laugh and have a good time,” says co-star Erika Henningsen.
Most likely to rule the world
Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron, new girl at school)
“She is Wonder Woman,” Louderman says. “I never see her memorizing new lines — she just knows them.”
Most likely to be easily startled
Ashley Park (Gretchen, the insecure Plastic)
“If you ever want to prank her, just sneak up and yell ‘Boo!’ in her ear, but prepare yourself for the earth-shattering shriek,” Kate Rockwell says.
most likely to cry over baby animal videos
(Karen, the dim-witted Plastic)
“I know I can make her day with a video of a newborn giraffe trying to walk,” says Ashley Park.
Most likely to obsess over Timothée Chalamet
Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis, the brooding outcast)
“She won’t stop talking about him,” Grey Henson says.
Most likely to make a joke that Weed takes seriously
Grey Henson (Damian, the gay sidekick)
“Once during the spring fling scene, he covered his mouth and clutched his heart. I thought he was having a heart attack,” Weed says. Fortunately, he wasn’t.
Most likely to smell like a daisy
Kyle Selig (Aaron, jock heartthrob)
“He uses this all-natural deodorant, which he gave to all of us as opening night gifts in D.C. Now I smell like a sexy forest man, too,” Cheech Manohar says.
Most likely to add 20 minutes to the show
Cheech Manohar (Kevin G., mathlete rapper)
“Whether it’s his giant family or giant-er circle of friends, [during the curtain call] they let him know just how much they love him,” Kyle Selig says.
Most likely to be mistaken for a Plastic
Kerry Butler (Ms. Norbury, droll math teacher and more)
“She plays three different characters,” Rick Younger says. “None of them Plastics, which confuses fans at the stage door.”
Most likely to be watching TV during dance rehearsal
Rick Younger (Mr. Duvall, principal)
Playing the principal means having Netflix handy “because the grown-ups don’t dance much,” fellow grown-up Butler says.
LI’S OWN NEW GIRL IN SCHOOL
It’s a long flight from Long Island to Dubai, and for actress Lindsay Lohan the journey has had more than its share of turbulence.
Raised in Merrick and Laurel Hollow, Lohan was just 17 when she shot “Mean Girls.” She’d already made a splash in her debut film, the 1998 remake of “The Parent Trap,” and buffed her reputation with 2003’s “Freaky Friday,” but it was her performance in 2004’s “Mean Girls” — grounded, graceful, revealing a wry gift for comic timing — that sent her rocketing into superstardom.
Other films followed (“Herbie: Fully Loaded,” “A Prairie Home Companion”), but they paled in comparison to the raucous, real-life drama that played out before paparazzi and courtroom cameras. “Everything moves so fast [in Hollywood] — people grow up so quickly,” Lohan, now 31, told “The View” last year. “You have to just always remember to slow down.”
By 2012, she was more known for her public battles with drugs and alcohol, and brushes with the law. The tabloid headlines generated by her squabbling, arrest-prone parents didn’t help any.
Today, Lohan’s life is quieter. She moved to London, then Dubai, where a law against paparazzi offers her some semblance of calm and privacy. She has a beauty brand coming out, plans for a clothing line and a recurring role on the upcoming season of Rupert Grint’s British sitcom, “Sick Note.”
“Everybody has their ups and downs in life . . . but I lived mine for everyone to see,” Lohan told London’s Daily Mail TV. “And I’m not ashamed by that.”
— Joseph V. Amodio