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‘Mean Girls’ Musical Composer Jeff Richmond Talks Upcoming Movie Adaptation, Working With Wife Tina Fey

The Hollywood Reporter 1/27/2023 Sydney Odman
© Provided by The Hollywood Reporter

This January, Mean Girls’ national tour opened in Los Angeles, bringing the cult classic teen comedy to life on the Pantages stage.

At the show’s L.A. premiere, the audience was decked out in pink outfits and Mean Girls merch, while guests like producer and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels also attended. Based on the original film screenplay and book from Emmy award winner Tina Fey, Mean Girls follows the same story of new kid in town Cady Heron, as she navigates the vicious world of high school suburbia — a place led by the ruthless plastics and their queen bee Regina George.

Ahead of the show’s final weekend at the Pantages, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the musical’s composer Jeff Richmond, along with current cast members, to discuss the upcoming movie musical adaptation, Richmond’s working relationship with his wife Fey and how the show is breaking barriers in Broadway diversity.

For Richmond, the journey to getting Mean Girls on a Broadway stage began with acquiring the rights.

“Tina and I had always talked about trying to do a musical for years,” Richmond says about his wife and creative collaborator Fey. “[Mean Girls] seemed like people had interest and were asking about it, asking us if we were ever interested in doing a musical. Because we’re so close to Lorne and he’s the one who would have to give us the rights to it, we just said, ‘Let’s just shoot for this.’ And by gosh, we are able to get the rights to the movie that Tina wrote.”

And so with the stage adaptation of Mean Girls, the Emmy-winning TV composer found his way back to his musical theater roots. Throughout his career, Richmond composed for shows like 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Saturday Night Live and Girls5Eva. Prior to that, he got his start by majoring in musical theater in college, where he authored several musicals and score compositions.

Casey Nicholaw, Tina Fey, Jeff-Richmond, Nell Benjamin © Provided by The Hollywood Reporter Casey Nicholaw, Tina Fey, Jeff-Richmond, Nell Benjamin

Following its 2017 debut and the 2020 Broadway pandemic shutdown, Mean Girls is back up and running for its U.S. tour, just in time for the ongoing development of the musical’s film adaptation. “I trust everybody that we put in place and the production company,” Richmond says of his current involvement with the Broadway show and tour. “We have such good management on the road and people are taking care of it. Right now, the day-to-day is more about the movie adaptation that we’re working on.”

In 2020, it was announced that Michaels and Paramount Pictures were planning on adapting the musical version of the story into a movie. Michaels will return to produce, along with Fey who will pen the adaptation’s script. Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. are set to direct, and Richmond and lyricist Nell Benjamin will also return to work on the film’s music. It was also recently announced that Angourie Rice, Auli’i Cravalho, Jaquel Spivey and Reneé Rapp will star.

“We’re super involved with that,” Richmond says. “What we’re trying to do [with the movie] is take the score that sounds like a Broadway score — in a good way — and [give] the movie a fresher palette. To make it sound more like stuff you want to listen to on Spotify, as opposed to when you’re sitting eighth row center at a Broadway theater or the Pantages. It’s kind of making it a fresher, younger take on the whole thing. We’re kind of reinvented the music for the movie, so it’s really fun.”

Adds Nadina Hassan, who plays Regina, in the tour, “We’re one of just a handful of girls who get to play these roles professionally and at this level, and that’s such a blessing. Because now, when the movie comes out, what we’ve done will also get to be shared with so many other people who maybe weren’t able to come see us on tour or weren’t able to go see the Broadway cast. I always feel so lucky to just be a part of this legacy.”

After working together over the past three decades, Richmond and Fey have mastered the art of collaborating together, not to mention their most important collaboration — their family. “Don’t forget our children,” he laughs. “We collaborated on our children and our dogs.” As for working together on the musical, Richmond says it “couldn’t be better.”

“We know when to get out of each other’s way when we’re working together,” the composer adds. “Like who’s taking this part? Who’s doing that? Who needs to push harder on getting the script done for this? We’re just around each other all the time. Same office, all the time. She’s a hilariously fun person to be around.”

Mean Girls © Provided by The Hollywood Reporter Mean Girls

The stage adaptation has also made significant strides in representation by casting people of color in each of the leading roles.

“I saw the musical when it opened on Broadway,” remembers Jasmine Rogers, who plays Gretchen. “I saw almost all of the original cast, and I was lucky that I got to see Ashley De La Rosa, who is Afro-Latina play Regina that night. I got to see her and [Ashley Park who played Gretchen], and that was really, really cool.”

With three women of color playing the Plastics on the current Mean Girls tour, Hassan emphasizes the importance of breaking down barriers on Broadway. “Growing up and going through college while the show was out, you didn’t see that many people of color in those leading roles,” she explains. “So to play Regina now is really cool, and it’s something that I never expected. All three of us have sort of broken down different barriers in these roles, which is pretty amazing.”

From movie to musical to movie musical, Mean Girls has become a teen cult classic, with quotes like “So fetch!” and “You can’t sit with us” firmly established as fixtures in the pop culture of the early 2000s. Nearly 20 years after the original film’s release, audiences still find their way back to it.

“Tina talks about that all the time,” Richmond says about the show’s impact across generations. “It’s been a new Mean Girls for each generation that comes back around. You get them all going back to the original movie, but then suddenly, there’s another kind of version and now a movie.”

“I think part of it is that Tina Fey is hilarious,” adds Morgan Ashley Bryant, who plays Karen in the show. “She wrote some super iconic lines that I think will probably stand the test of time. But I also think that the core values of the story is to get rid of all the extra mess and just support each other as women, which is why I think so many women and young girls resonate with the story.”

The Los Angeles run of Mean Girls comes to a close this upcoming weekend on Sunday, Jan. 29. Immediately following, the tour heads to San Francisco from Jan. 31 to Feb. 26, followed by a week-long stint in San Diego and a final California stop in Costa Mesa from March 7 to March 19. Tickets for upcoming shows can be purchased online.

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