Changes in adaptations are tricky. Subverting your audience’s expectations can either be the best thing that ever happened to the source material or the wedge that immediately alienates that same audience.

After the original 2004 Mean Girls starring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, they adapted the movie into a musical, premiering on Broadway in 2017. It was widely well received, getting nominated for fifteen Tony Awards in 2018. Personally, I’ve been a fan of the musical since its release. I remember being enormously excited that it was coming out since I had been saying it would make a great musical for years, and I was even happier to enjoy it.

So I was even more ecstatic to learn they were making a movie. Living in the Midwest, seeing the show on Broadway wasn’t really possible for me, but the movie would bring the show to me. And then…I heard the soundtrack.

And the response from the rest of the audience seems pretty similar. My TikTok “For You” page is filled with musical fans infuriated by the changes.

So why did moving Mean Girls to Broadway work, but moving it to the big screen fell short? Sure, it wasn’t really marketed as a musical, so plenty of people were unpleasantly surprised to learn that in the movie, but the musical fans knew. What made it so different for them? In short: respect for the source material.

The Mean Girls move to Broadway felt like a pinker, louder version of the original story. They carried over the most iconic scenes and lines, and every change is meant to either expand, emphasize, or improve the source material. They cut most of the weird racial stereotypes in Damian’s tour of the lunch room cliques. They added a bit more backstory about Aaron Samuels, the protagonist’s love interest. The only change I didn’t like was that they made Cady’s love of math a product of her inability to understand love (as opposed to the straightforwardness of math), but that wasn’t distracting from the story or the fun of it. Every change was intentional to make it more fun, bigger, and brighter.

The music isn’t perfect (a lot of the lyrics feel like they should’ve been left behind in the drafts phase), but the production is where the music shines. The instrumentation shifts genres between characters, and it keeps the energy high almost the entire show.

Meanwhile, the movie soundtrack is a more stripped-down, “updated” version of the 2017 score. It feels like they took the original music, put it through a TikTok filter, and stripped away everything that made it sound like a musical.

Some songs work better than others. The synth-pop song “Sexy” has a Dua Lipa sound in the new movie, and the intro to “World Burn” has more of a movie trailer feel that really works for setting the stage. But overall, the “update” just stripped away most of the instrumentation, chorus, and fun. The climactic song “World Burn” is supposed to feel chaotic, but it feels measured and marching. “Stupid with Love,” a song about the giddiness of high school crushes, is slowed down, acapella, and monotone. It really begs the question of what they were going for.

Since they didn’t market the new version as a musical, it feels like the team working on this musical doesn’t believe anyone wants to go to a musical. It’s certainly a campier genre that’s not for everyone, but the music producers and marketing team just edited out everything that drew in their original audience without adding anything new. They were so concerned with acquiring a new audience that they didn’t work to keep the one they already had.

Adaptations have to come from a place of love. The showrunners of HBO’s The Last of Us were both in love with the original game, one as a creator and one as a fan. You can’t adapt something well if you can’t look at what made the original great, and it is clear that the team for the new Mean Girls did not love the musical for the right reasons.

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