April Josephine is a Triple Threat in “Mean Girls” at The Kennedy Center
April 14, 2022 @ 11:00am
In the year 2022, I sent my friend a “Mean Girls” (2004) meme of Damian swathed in a light blue hoodie and shades, shouting “She doesn’t even go here!” The context to why I sent it is not important, but the message fit the moment. Roughly twenty years later and the story of Cady Heron and the Plastics is still applicable.
When the movie first came out, it was well received, earning an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing a respectable $86.1 million. But its longevity is a testament to the mind of Tina Fey. In 2017, “Mean Girls” entered its next iteration by moving to the physical stage and opening in D.C.’s National Theatre before hitting Broadway in 2018. Returning to the District through April 25, “Mean Girls” touring production is calling The Kennedy Center its home for next three weeks.
In this production, April Josephine plays not one, but three iconic characters including Cady Heron’s Mom, Ms. Norbury and Regina George’s Mom — better known to “Mean Girls” fans as “Cool Mom.” Josephine spoke with us about how she is able to juggle and excel at all three roles, her favorite scenes and what she enjoys most about making D.C. her home for a short stint.
District Fray: Playing multiple characters in a singular production is already a feat. Playing three beloved, very different characters with iconic lines seems like another level. How has the experience been for you and how do you compartmentalize?
April Josephine: It has been such a joy. What I always tell people when they’re like, “How do you tell these women apart?” is from the beginning I trust the text. Tina Fey is an absolutely brilliant writer. And the other part I say to people is the literal shoes I wear for each woman help quite a bit because you know you plant your feet in the shoes, Mrs. George has these high heels which are so different from what Ms. Norbury wears, which is like a sensible loafer. And Mrs. Heron, she was on the African tundra. So the different shoes help ground me in the character. It was challenging to begin with, but it’s the kind of challenge that keeps this job super fun and interesting.
Do you have a favorite to play out of the three?
Ms. Norbury. When I’m not in shows, I’m an educator myself and I love collaborating with high school students and college students. So she’s my favorite, but there’s a challenge with Mrs. George, her nuances and trying to keep her authentic. But my heart and the consciousness of the show is with Ms. Norbury.
How did you prepare for Ms. Norbury since she is such a significant character to move the story forward?
I thought of her as this woman who perhaps went to school and excelled in a lot of math and science classes in college, but maybe didn’t have a lot of women around her so she’s really rooting for this girl Cady Heron to excel in math.
Are you good at math?
Absolutely not [laughs]. I looked up terms and things like that to understand what I was doing for the role because I like to go method with it and understand what exactly is going on. I did some looking up to make sure that I knew at least a little bit of what I was talking about [when teaching calculus in the show], but my running joke is, “No, I am not good at math, but I really I’m a good tap dancer.”
Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Ana Gasteyer played Ms. Norbury, Mrs. George and Mrs. Heron in the film respectively. Were you influenced by their portrayals? Did you find it intimidating?
I will be perfectly honest with you, when I got the slides for this audition, I read what it was and was like, “I cannot do this.” but I read the script again and I read all three women. And I said “Wait. I kind of understand each of them.”
I did not want to copy [previous actors’ portrayals] because the team I work with, our art director and our associate directors, they’re incredible. And they wanted to see authentic people in the room [for auditions] which I didn’t know at the time, but I figured out in the callback process. So I didn’t want to put any character on. I just trusted the text, which is well written and the humor is almost rhythmic for them.
I booked the roles and they sent me the itinerary with the “Mean Girls” sign and everything which did intimidate me. I was like “Oh my gosh, these are monstrous shoes to fill.” But I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t think I could do it.
Did you rewatch the movie to prepare?
I did not watch the movie again. The last time I had seen it was years ago. I have since seen a snippet on TV one night in one of my hotel rooms on tour. I also hadn’t seen the Broadway show since the summer of 2018 before auditioning. I just don’t want to ever copy.
“Mean Girls” shaped the early aughts zeitgeist and still influences current pop culture. Before a part of the production, did you consider “Mean Girls” as an integral part of growing up?
I saw the movie as a teenager. I thought it was funny, but I don’t think I was as influenced by it as so many of my peers and friends. And I’ve come to realize just how much it is a pop culture iconic film, nowadays. So I appreciate it in hindsight, as opposed to when it first came out when I was a kid. It’s really hit me more now. Now that I’m a part of this production every day than I did at the time.
Playing multiple characters in a singular production, how many times do you have to change from one character to another? How quick are the changes?
There are nine changes back and forth, but 11 costume changes because Ms. Norbury has a few costume changes she does in act two, but the character stays the same. I’m two women in the same number. Mrs. Heron first and she covers up Mrs. George. I end up undressing at the top of the show, literally in the wing. It is about a 13-second change and that’s a hair change a whole costume and shoe change and a lip gloss change. For a couple of numbers, I have time to get some water, sit down and then get my wig on. It was hard at first but now feels very easy. It’s a team effort and it’s very choreographed.
What are some of your favorite upgrades and changes to the story for this production?
There are some references from the film that might not be okay now. So Tina Fey rewrote [the script for the musical] to make it smarter and a cleaner line script for today’s audience. So that’s one of my favorite changes.
The other thing is that casting has really worked with our company and with us to really make this more of a diverse and inclusive casting process and environment that we’re in. I’m mixed race. My daughter [in the musical] Regina George [played by Nadina Hassan] is mixed race. And I love that. I think it’s wonderful we’ve brought diversity to the forefront of what we’re doing as we tell the story.
While staying in D.C. for three weeks, what have you been able to visit and enjoy?
Well, Adante Carter who plays Aaron Samuels, and I did a joint rollerskating birthday party here on the outskirts of D.C. that we called “sequins and skates.”
I took the subway yesterday here and learned that it is much cleaner than New York City’s, as much as I love my home of New York City [laughs].
Some of us [in the production] like to box so we went to Rumble Boxing a few days ago. A group went this morning as well, which is great. We try to find a cafe that’s unique to the town [when touring]. Also, we collect stickers of the cities to remember and put it on our touring trunks.
What’s your favorite part of the show?
Anything with Cady Heron played by Danielle Wade. She is such a giving authentic actress. In act two where we kind of patch things up and Cady is fixing some of her mistakes, it’s some of the best stage time I’ve ever received in my life with another actress. It is a gift every night. And I love the Mathletes scene so much. There’s a little bit of a surprise because Ms. Norbury doesn’t sing until then.
What will youe take away from this production when it wraps?
One is more funny than serious but during the pandemic, I was starting to wear the same thing every day. A lot of yoga pants and a solid color shirt. But this show, there’s like over 15,000 costume pieces. It’s crazy and these Plastics and some of their outfits –- I wish sometimes the audiences could see some of Gretchen’s close-up stuff –- I’ve been very inspired to redo my wardrobe and have fun with it again.
[The other is] it’s precious to share the stage with this particular group of people. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. We get to the end of the show and Cady’s talking to all of us and sometimes I get teary just watching her and looking around, thinking, “Wow. we get to do this. And this is my job.” My job is to play dress up every day and even when it’s hard, and we’re tired, it’s such a gift and these adults playing kids will forever hold that part of my heart. It’s the first show back for a lot of audiences and that is such a gift to be a part of. I will never forget that for as long as I live.
“Mean Girls” runs at the Kennedy Center through April 25. To see available times and tickets, visit here.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org // @kennedycenter
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