Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw doesn’t flinch at the suggestion of a “Signature Nicholaw Moment.” He understands the reference: an inside joke–laden medley culminating in an Elizabethan kick line (Something Rotten!), a Genie making literal sparks fly between cartwheels (Aladdin), a bedazzled group of tap-dancing missionaries (The Book of Mormon)—each moment known to bring audiences to their feet mid-show.
Nicholaw’s latest Broadway venture, the musical adaptation of Mean Girls, is not as inherently flashy. Spectacle makes way for the calculated world of high school, where a tap routine can make you an outcast. Not that Nicholaw’s flair is absent: “There are places where people go, ‘Oh, that is so you,’” he says before rehearsal begins for the day. “But it isn’t a ten-minute ‘pull all the stops out’ moment.”
Instead, Nicholaw points to a moment in the second act featuring Regina George (played by Taylor Louderman), as she contemplates revenge following her ouster from The Plastics clique by new girl Cady (Erika Henningsen). It’s the first tableau Nicholaw envisioned when approached for the project. “I knew exactly what to do with that moment, and that informed the set… it really informed a lot of it.”
The set comes to life mainly through Finn Ross and Adam Young’s video design, including pages from Regina’s iconic Burn Book that greet the audience as they first enter the theatre. Nicholaw admits to questioning whether he wanted to implement the increasingly common device, but ultimately determined it also accommodates the fast-paced structure created by Tina Fey, the 2004 film’s screenwriter who makes her Broadway debut as the show’s bookwriter. As the libretto shifts from school to mall to bedroom, projections set the scene quickly—as do actors moving their own set pieces.
Fortunately, he has a cast willing to add “door catching” to their special skills (sand-wiched between “lunch tray choreography” and “trust falls”). With the exception of two adults, the entire principal company portrays high schoolers. Most are in their 20s and early 30s; Nicholaw finds that’s necessary to ensure the stamina and musical comedy chops to carry a show.
“What I look for in people is their youth-fulness, no matter what their age,” he says. “I find myself a kid anyway.”
That mutual energy permeates the rehearsal room, which begins to feel and sound more and more like a high school hallway as the cast assembles. Perhaps with less drama.