Composer Jeff Richmond talks with Kathrine Nero about creating MEAN GIRLS
Kathrine Nero: What is the story of MEAN GIRLS?
Jeff Richmond: MEAN GIRLS is a story of a young lady named Cady Heron, who grew up in the African jungle with her scientist parents. She has had no real contact with people or the kind of norms that we normally experience in society. She ends up being lifted out of Africa because her parents get a job, and she’s thrown into the middle of a different kind of jungle setting: American high school. She is 14 or 15 years old, and she gets dumped into this vicious place. She ends up learning how to find friends, who to avoid, who’s going to be good to her and who’s not. And it’s all done with big, flashy musical numbers and a lot of comedy.
KN: What were the things you wanted to keep from the original film, and what did you want to change?
JR: We wanted to keep many of the elements of the movie that people really enjoyed because it’s such a beloved film. So we tried to keep as much of that, but still make it its own thing, which can be a difficult adaptive process. But we also felt that we could dig into the story a little bit more because when people sing, they can naturally get a little bit deeper into the emotional world on stage. We wanted to be able to explore the characters’ emotions and what made them tick, and we could do that even more in song than you could in a movie.
KN: Might fans of the move be surprised at how we look at characters differently when you add that musical, emotional component to it?
JR: When you start to add singing and dancing into something, everything gets bigger and better. For example, Damien is a character in the movie that everybody knows. He’s a little flamboyant, and we all love the guy, he’s funny. But when you put him in the context of a musical comedy, suddenly this guy is doing huge musical comedy tap numbers. I think people will be able to see that and go: “That’s exactly what I thought that guy would do if he was in a musical.” And then on the other side of that, you see a character like Regina George who’s this villain…she’s got a lot of levels to her. She’s not all bad, she’s not all good, but to see her in this setting and singing like a James Bond villain, I think that people will find those moments exciting. There’s lots of singing, lots of dancing, and lots of Tina Fey point-of-view jokes.
KN: Let’s talk about Tina Fey. You guys have been married for a long time. She wrote the film years ago. What was the collaboration like in getting the style of music together, and getting this up onto the stage?
JR: It was our first musical collaborative effort. We’ve done a lot of things on television together, but it was Tina’s first writing of a book for a musical. She comes from a theater background, as do I, but actually jumping in and writing a book for a musical is kind of a different setting. So we were able to guide where we thought the tent poles of songs would be and where felt like it needed to be dialogue because you wanted to work in a joke, or where it felt like it needed to be a song because the character was in an emotional place where they just had to sing. All I can say is it was great. The whole creative team was really fun to be around because it was Tina Fey, who’s fun to be around all the time, Nell Benjamin who’s the lyricist, and Casey Nicholaw, the director. All great, and we all felt out a way that we could guide each other.
As far as the styles of songs in the show, we wanted to come from a place that felt very honest and make sure all the characters sounded how you’d think they’d sound if they did sing. So, Damien sounds like big, flashy Broadway numbers; Barrett [Janice] sounds like she comes from kind of a punk, edgy world. Some people sound like they’re from pop, other people sound like from hard edge rock and roll. But it all adds up.
KN: What do you want people to come away with after seeing the show?
JR: I think I can speak for the entire creative team, that we want them to come away feeling like they’ve just been through something that was so fun, they laughed hard all night, but that they felt something at the end of the evening.
KN: Is this a play that middle and high schoolers should come to see? Should parents bring the whole family?
JR: Absolutely! They should bring the whole family. As a matter of fact, what we’ve really found – and this has been such a fun discovery on Broadway – is that our audience has so many young people. Eight-year-olds, middle school kids, all these kids want to drag their parents to see it. It is definitely a show for the whole family.
KN: And parents will like it too?
JR: Oh my gosh, parents will love it. It’s just got those kinds of jokes that the parents can sit back and enjoy too. About the Show
Direct from Broadway, MEAN GIRLSis the hilarious hit musical from an award-winning creative team, including book writer Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), composer Jeff Richmond (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), lyricist Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde) and director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon). Cady Heron may have grown up on an African savanna, but nothing prepared her for the vicious ways of her strange new home: suburban Illinois. Soon, this naïve newbie falls prey to a trio of lionized frenemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George. But when Cady devises a plan to end Regina’s reign, she learns the hard way that you can’t cross a Queen Bee without getting stung.