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Mean Girls the Musical Is Totally Grool: Casey Nicholaw brings the wickedly funny movie to Broadway this month.

She had a varied, flourishing career that included dancing for Lar Lubovitch, touring with the Bad Boys of Dance, and performing at Radio City Music Hall and on Broadway. But Kamille Upshaw really wanted to make Mean Girls happen. Not because she'd known Reginas or Plastics in high school--at Baltimore School for the Arts, her classmates were too busy pursuing dance, music or other "artsy things" to form the obnoxious cliques that Lindsay Lohan experiences in the movie. But when the teen comedy by "Saturday Night Live" giants came out in 2004, Upshaw and her friends watched Mean Girls over and over and over. It was "an obsession," she says.

When Upshaw learned there was going to be a stage musical, of course she wanted in. But she was doing Hamilton and couldn't make the invited audition her agency had snagged. So she went to an open call, and got several callbacks. However, she had to skip the final dance call. She was surprised to learn that director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, book writer Tina Fey and the other Mean Girls creators wanted her to come in to sing and read for them anyway. They hired her for the lab, and now, a year later, with the show ensconced at the August Wilson Theatre, she's opening a Broadway musical.

"What makes Mean Girls so special to me," Upshaw says, "is that I finally am a part of a Broadway musical from the ground up--I get to help put together this thing that is now a show." Upshaw had joined the 2012 national tour of Flashdance a couple of weeks in, and got into Hamilton shortly after it opened. In both cases, she felt simultaneously like an insider and an outsider. "The casts welcomed me," she recalls, "so in a way I was very much part of the original casts. But, for me, if I'm not there before opening, or in the rehearsals, it doesn't feel like I'm part of the opening cast."

This time, she was there from step one, and loving it. Nicholaw, she says, "is really good about knowing when to have fun and when to focus, focus, focus. We are creating a high school onstage," she says. "The cool thing about Mean Girls is how the ensemble functions, as a prominent, important part of the show--we move everything. We are the school." In one cafeteria scene, the ensemble propels trays and tables around the stage as Grey Henson, The Book of Mormon veteran who plays the acerbic, unabashedly gay Damian, sings "Where Do You Belong?" And, unlike most Broadway ensembles, the Mean Girls crew isn't anonymous. "I'm Rachel Hamilton," Upshaw says. "All the women have characters, and a lot of the men, too." They're fleshed out, she adds, "almost as much as the Plastics. And on top of that, we get to dance."

The style is mostly musical theater hip hop, Upshaw says. But she hints that Nicholaw, a tap maestro, may have a few surprises up his sleeve. She's more willing to talk about how open he is to input from his dancers. "Casey and his assistants bring in full phrases," she explains. "But then they let us make it our own. We bring the youth into the movement, so it looks like up-to-date hip hop. We are all in it together." Having worked with Sergio Trujillo on the Flashdance tour and with Andy Blankenbuehler on Hamilton, she finds that Nicholaw's "mind and vision" remind her of Blankenbuehler, while his "fun, energetic take" resembles that of Trujillo.

It was especially fun when the musical tried out last fall in Washington, DC, and brought her close to home. Upshaw loves having friends and family in the audience. "Yeah," she says, "I suppose I'm a little more nervous--they are my biggest fans and my hardest critics. But when they come, I feel so alive, so good performing for them."

A Team You'd Want to Sit With

It's not easy creating a stage musical from a film with the devoted following that's attached itself to Mean Girls. Casey Nicholaw said so when he was doing the same thing with Disney's Aladdin: "It's hard to take something iconic and turn it into a show that people will love, that they won't have beefs with. Doing an original is really, really tough, but it's also sort of easier, and freeing, in a way. Because ... you don't have to please a certain group. With a beloved movie, there are a lot of things people expect and that you feel you're at times a slave to."

On Mean Girls, the task is made easier since some of the film's original team is on board. Lome Michaels is once again producing, and Tina Fey has based the book on her screenplay. Her husband, Jeff Richmond, wrote the songs with lyricist Nell Benjamin. And seasoned Broadway veterans--Kerry Butler, Taylor Louderman and Grey Henson--have major roles.

Caption: Watch out, Cady heron Gretchen, Regina and Karen are back, This time, They sing and dance

Caption: High school may be harsh, but it's also great fodder for dance numbers. Here, the cast hits the mall on a Wednesday.

Caption: Kamille Upshaw
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Title Annotation:news: ON BROADWAYS
Author:Gold, Sylviane
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 1, 2018
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