If you've been following Broadway's Mean Girls the Musical online, or any of its leading/supporting ladies, you're likely well-acquainted with the backstage antics and generally seamless dynamic of on-stage (and seemingly real-life) besties Taylor Louderman and Ashley Park. These two ladies are, like, really talented, and fit their respective roles perfectly in every way - they are the definition of 'dynamic duo'. But as with any long-running theatre production, we know that nobody is a robot (not even Regina George), and actors need time off. Hence the necessity of talented understudies to step in and cover key roles from time to time.
Since officially opening on Broadway in April, there have been a few sporadic understudy appearances (note Tee Boyich making her Broadway debut as Janis, a role she wasn't even understudying at the time, on three hours' notice - why isn't there a Tony award for understudies, because she deserves one for that!)
But this past week marks a first for the musical. One audience had the chance to see a very new configuration of the Northshore High "Plastics' clique, with Becca Petersen going on as Regina George (for the second time that week), and Zurin Villanueva making her Gretchen Weiners debut.
Zurin Villanueva as Gretchen, Becca Petersen as Regina, Barret Wilbert Weed as Janis, Erika Henningsen as Cady, Kate Rockwell as Karen (Instagram)
As you can tell by these candid backstage shots, these two girls seem to have been embraced with open arms by the rest of the regular principal cast. Anyone who follows the show's, or cast's social media accounts, knows that there appears to be a genuine sense of camaraderie among the company, regardless of principal or ensemble status. So it comes as no surprise that Petersen and Villanueva fit into Regina's and Gretchen's shoes so easily...for the sake of that metaphor, let's just pretend for a moment that understudies don't get their own personally fit costumes, okay? Thanks...you're SUCH a good friend!
With Zurin going on as Gretchen, this also marks first time the role has been played by an African-American. In a social media post about the event she comically writes, "Call me #blastic". This is just one of several examples of the industry's current movement of "color-blind" casting. In an interview with Backstage.com, Ashley Park (the regular Gretchen Weiners) sai
“[Gretchen's] not the Asian girl. It means so much to be on a marquee or a poster and to know that at the end of the day, what goes out in the character breakdown is not going to be ‘Gretchen Wieners must be played by an Asian woman.’ Telling stories about race and racial divides is so important, but to be able to tell human stories about friendships and relationships and growing up and have it not be about being Asian is amazing and it means the world to me that it is not a headline. It is a norm—or it is becoming a norm.”
So cudos to the casting team for Mean Girls for seeing past race, and congrats to Becca and Zurin on their leading and supporting role appearances! What other actors of color would you like to see play one of the Plastics?