Mean Girls: The Musical is coming to Portland this week, and I was given the chance to interview Mary Kate Morrissey, who plays sarcastic art girl and fan favorite Janis, in the production. Mary Kate was on the phone from Tempe, Arizona, where just the night before the show had opened. She described her state as “fungover,” i.e. hungover from fun, but she took the time to get deep about Janis, the power of weird art kids, why she loves visiting Portland, and how that triggered some insecurity of my own.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MERCURY: Were you a fan of the movie Mean Girls before joining the musical?
MARY KATE MORRISSEY: Yeah, it came out when I was in late middle school or early high school. I definitely was a fan. My mom read the book Queen Bees and Wannabes that the movie is based on, because I was such a sad kid. A little annoying art kid that was obsessed with the Regina Georges [the ruler of the popular girls] of the world, and obsessed with the way that people were treated by them. At the time it reflected my own life, I thought.
Is it at all triggering now to be an adult playing a teenager and singing the teenage songs, channeling the drama and all those vibes?
No. I did a lot of teaching over the pandemic break. My best friend and I created this studio [the best friend here is fellow Wicked alum Ginna Claire Mason and the company is called Double Name Witches. They both played witches in Wicked and they both have two first names. Get it?]
We had like 100-plus students and created all these curriculums and we have these incredible teens. Our ages 13-17 group are so unbelievably talented but are so like, those art kids. So coming back from the pandemic to the show, it shed a new light on Janis for me. Because I was seeing and hearing so much of what these teenagers are going through in a real way.
Are you still in touch with the kids who were in the program? Are they pen pals and buddies now?
Oh yeah. During the pandemic, when I felt like I was pulling away from my friends, or feeling unconnected to my world of Broadway, these little sub-communities were being formed and built. And these kids are best friends. We’ve had so many kids move in together in the city, or move from California to the city, or move from Singapore to California, just because they have a friend. They have someone there.
That’s so cool that at a time when everyone is so disconnected, they could form real friendships and carry them out of the pandemic.
What we tried to do is create a space where they could come and be themselves, express themselves, and always affirm other people in the class. Musical theater is an inherently collaborative art. Everybody needs to be doing this together.
Ginna Claire and I would leave the Zoom room and these classes would stay on for hours—kids would hang and talk and learn about each other and practice. It turned into a safe space for them. Ginna Claire and I can’t even believe that that’s what we did. We’d get these emails from parents saying like, “last year my daughter was celebrating her birthday just with us. We’d go out to dinner and there were no friends. This year someone threw her a surprise party where 20 of her best friends are singing to her and dressed up to celebrate her and all these different things, and it’s because of Double Name Witches.”
That’s so wonderful.
It’s insane. The mom emails—that’s what really gets me. Like, “You’ve helped my daughter through this, my daughter feels like she can express herself and her point of view, and she has something to say and she’s making friends. It has affected our family culture because she is happy.” It’s the best.
I don’t know if Mary Kate was assigned to this interview because she’s “the weird one” in a “weird” city (embarrassing!) or because she’s no stranger to Potland, having had two extended stints here with different shows. She made very clear that she loved Portland, and looked forward to vintage shopping, eating at Bollywood Theater, and going for a run along the waterfront, which sounded like a perfect Portland day circa 2012; I honestly felt a little insecure on behalf of our city. We’ve changed. What if she doesn’t like us anymore? What if now we aren’t cute-weird (were we ever?) but just messy-weird, or gross-weird?
I am hopeful, though, that if anyone can accept us and this mess we call home, it’d be Mary Kate Morrissey.
Mean Girls: The Musical opens tonight at Keller Auditorium and runs through this weekend; find ticket info here.