The musical version of Mean Girls is alternately silly and biting, its primary colors and big dance numbers often giving way to a hint of evil just beneath the surface, just the way Regina George, the catty alpha character played by Rachel McAdams in the movie and Taylor Louderman in the Broadway production, would like it. The songs add a buoyancy to Fey's narrative about previously homeschooled Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan in the movie, Erika Henningsen on stage), who moves from Africa to suburban Illinois and learns about the nasty anthropology of high-school teen girl culture. When Richmond and Fey initially started meeting with the team they assembled -- including Book of Mormon director Casey Nicholaw and Legally Blonde lyricist Nell Benjamin -- the word that came up to describe the score's potential was "quirky."
Richmond isn't exactly sure what that meant, but he has a guess. "I write a lot of eclectic styles just because of my background and what I do [so] it was going to be a quirky grouping of styles," he says. "It was going to be whatever each character was going to need to voice their points of view." So that means Cady gets a lot of cheerful, earnest songs, like the opening number "It Roars"; Regina gets to purr and belt out her seduction ballad "Someone Gets Hurt" like Celine Dion with a bad side; and Janis -- the art freak (played by Lizzy Caplan in the movie and Barrett Wilbert Weed in the show) who befriends Cady and enlists her in a plot to take down Regina -- gets to rock out to a feminist anthem "I'd Rather Be Me." It's Richmond's adaptability that impressed Nicholaw, who, after South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is no stranger to working with TV interlopers. "What I love the most is that he was that he was able to create a different sound for each character," Nicholaw says. "And still make it feel like a whole."
Richmond wasn't attempting to make radio-ready pop. If anything, Mean Girls' sound is one of the most traditionally musical theater currently on Broadway, harkening back to Richmond and Fey's love of the classics. What he was doing wasn't simple, however, Benjamin notes. "Jeff put a kind of complexity and a very personal stance to his music that makes it more than just a take-off on a musical theater number," she explains. "It is as funny as can be but he's not relying on parody he really is making incredible tunes and incredible music." She praises Regina's sexy torch song, in which she goes after the object of Cady's affections, Aaron Samuels. "Jeff was like, 'She needs to be a Bond villain,'" Benjamin says. "Her song should not be pop, it should not be rock, it should have that symphonic danger." Richmond's concept: Adele singing "Skyfall."
That was one of the five songs put in the show in between Mean Girls' out-of-town tryout in Washington, DC, at the end of 2017 and the Broadway debut. Another was "Stop," now the second-act opener, a tap number for Damian, Cady's self-appointed spirit guide through high school (played by the Tony-nominated Grey Henson). "We knew that we wanted it to be something in musical theater and Tina and I with Nell really wanted it to be a true comedy song," says Richmond. For example, Damian references Cole Porter's Anything Goes -- both lyrically and musically -- as he coaches Cady to stop sending ill-advised texts.