Megan Masako Haley is Totally Fetch

November 5, 2019

                                       The Broadway adaptation of the hit movie Mean Girls stormed the Benedum Center in October. In every shade of pink, the cast had audiences laughing through the whole two and a half hours. Nothing is safe from Tina Fey's musical, not Starbucks drinks, social media, and especially high school social hierarchy.  The show  delivers a message of acceptance and satisfaction with who you are through well-timed jokes that are culturally relevant. Megan Masako Haley earns much of the laughter from the audience with her portrayal of Gretchen Weiners, the sidekick of the show’s antagonist, Regina George.

                                       Mean Girls,  originally a 2004 movie by Tina Fey,  tells the story of high-schooler Cady Heron who moves to the US after growing up in Africa. She goes from being homeschooled on the Savana to being tossed into teenage life at North Shore High School where everyone is drinking Starbucks, on social media, and terrified of “The Plastics,” gorgeous and icy Regina George, desperate Gretchen Weiners, and airheaded Karen Smith. Cady quickly befriends the “too gay to function” Damien and jaded and artsy Janis Sarkasian. The central question of the show is laid out in the opening number, “A Cautionary Tale”, by Janis who sings, “But how far would you got to be popular and hot? Would you resist temptation? No, you would not.”

                                        For Haley, being one of the   mean girls has been a dream come true.   “I love this show so much. I’ve been auditioning for it for a long time, but I’m really glad that everything worked out for me to be here with this company at this point in my life because the friendships we have off-stage make it feel so supportive on-stage. It’s so fun to come to work every day. Rehearsal was so fun. We got to work with the whole original creative team; they’ve made some changes that they were thinking about for the past year while it's been on Broadway, and I think what we’ve landed on is just really awesome."

                                        “It’s just a great universal story about a young person finding where she belongs in this world. It’s something that we’ve all done and are continuing to do into our adult lives. It’s set to awesome music, has incredible music, incredible costumes, and it’s just laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh all the way through. It’s really fun.”

                                        Haley grew up in San Jose, California. She’s half-Japanese on her mom’s side, though she admits that her Japanese family has been in the States for so long that she can’t speak Japanese. She went to Japan once when she was really young and hopes to go back again. Growing up, she had always loved singing and performed in children’s theatre shows, including Guys and Dolls. After graduating from high school, where Haley says she was more of a Janis doing her own punk-rock, Avril Lavigne thing, Haley attended Brigham Young University in Utah in 2014 where she earned a BFA in Music Dance Theatre.

                                        Despite the grueling schedule of tour life, Haley has been enjoying getting to visit the different cities. She’s toured before with the Second National Tour of Wicked playing the role of Nessarose, so she knows the ropes of tour life. With Mean Girls, she’s getting to see both new places and revisit old, like Columbus. Surprisingly, there are sculpture gardens in multiple cities, and Haley has enjoyed getting to explore them.

                                        “I loved Minneapolis. I don’t know what I was expecting it to be, but we were in a really cute part of town and every block there was a boutique, cute coffee shop, a desert place, and a farm-to-table restaurant, so if you ever have time I say, ‘Go to Minneapolis.’”

                                        As Gretchen, Haley is hilarious. She has mastered her comedic timing and the song she sings, “What’s wrong With Me,” is soulful and poignant while still being funny. The song is a vocalization of the universal feeling of not being good enough and not fitting in.                           

                                        About Gretchen, Haley says, “I think the main thing with Gretchen is that for me to get into the role, she’s an energizer of scenes because she’s the only one who will wear her excitement or nervousness on her sleeve, and so a lot of time I’ll start the scene and will have to come out with full excitement, full energy because it sets the tone for the rest of the scene.

                                        “I have to be the one at 100% all the time. I have some adrenaline peaks and valleys through the show. To find the comedy, it’s about making her a real person who just manifests her insecurities. I think things are funnier when you’re not pointing at it like, “This is funny,” but keeping her in a very earnest place and that’s where the comedy comes from.”

                                        Mean Girls is still running on Broadway, but the tour version has been changed and tweaked. “We have a significantly different opening number. There have been a lot of cuts, a lot of tweaks on jokes, there’ve been a couple updates on things because the world changes so quickly, so some lines have been updated even since Broadway. It just flows really beautifully with the cuts we have made. We’ve found what really serves the story best for us.”

                                        The show is full of high-power energy, lots of dancing and jokes that relate to society today. There are references to popular culture as Cady attempts to assimilate to Western culture, and there are also references that are ingrained in popular culture from the 2004 movie that live on in the musical — “I’m not a regular mom; I’m a cool mom,” “You can’t sit with us,” “She doesn’t even go here,” and maybe most famous, “On Wednesdays we wear pink.”

                                        “The archetype of Gretchen, and all the characters,   was obviously set up really well in the movie. But our directors gave us a lot of leeway on what we wanted to do, so finding somewhere in the middle of this what people will expect and want and these are the things that are “me.” I think we were able to come up with a nice midway point for all the characters, but I feel for Gretchen, she’s still going to say some of the lines, some of the things that everyone is waiting for but they’ve also added some fun new things for her too, so it isn’t predictable the whole time.
                                        “The first day of rehearsal I knew Mary Kate Morrisey [who plays  Janis]  and like one other guy; I knew no one, which is kind of surprising because I feel like in New York you’re always working with people or seeing them, but it was really nice to have a familiar friendly face. MK and I had worked together before on Wicked, and it’s so fun getting to work with her again.”

                                        After Mean Girls wraps up, Haley isn’t sure what’s on her agenda. She’s done film and TV work and would like to do some more and would love to do a new work or take on a humorous role in a superhero movie — "Anything that I think is good," she says. She’d like to keep exploring comedy because it’s what she feels she’s good at. Her portrayal of Gretchen is a good argument for her to continue being cast in comedic roles.

                                        “Gretchen has been my favorite role 1000%. It’s been so fulfilling for me as an artist and a person because there’s a lot of freedom and I feel very supported by my castmates too. So if we want to try something new we talk about it and go for it and respond however you feel in the moment. It feels really nice and exciting. I haven’t gotten to do a ton of comedy, but I feel like it’s where my home base is, what I feel I’m really good at.”

                                        For anyone who knows and loves the movie and those who haven’t seen it, Mean Girls is a gut-busting night of entertainment. Be sure to catch Haley and the rest of the Mean Girls cast on tour; it’s totally fetch!

 

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