Reneé Rapp rests on trusting her instincts. If Hadestown’s Eva Noblezada could book the lead in Miss Saigon after competing in the coveted Jimmy Awards for high school musical theater superstars, so could she.
Rapp was the fearless teenager trying to get out of going to college – something her parents were adamant about. Little did she know the Jimmys would lead her on a path to stardom from Broadway’s Mean Girls to Mean Girls on the big screen. Not to mention a successful solo album “Snow Angel” and sold-out concerts in between.
“I definitely didn’t want to f–king do that,” the 23-year-old actress and rising pop artist says boldly to Broadway Direct about wanting to evade higher education. “[Eva] got a job working on the West End and didn’t have to go to college. Eva (a 2013 Jimmy Award finalist, also from her hometown and performing arts high school) did it this way so if I could do it that way, as well, that would be great. That’s what luckily ended up happening.”
Rapp is now making her film debut as queen bee Regina George in Mean Girls, a movie musical in theaters nationwide January 12. Rachel McAdams originated the role on screen in 2004 and Taylor Louderman took on the iconic part in the 2018 stage musical on Broadway.
The challenge for Rapp was to create her own version of the character after taking over for Louderman in 2019.
“I’ve already done this. So this is in my body a couple hundred times. There’s such familiarity with the score; with the script; with this kind of character and this comedy that it was finding new things and new little beats to make it interesting,” she said seamlessly, adding that her favorite scene to shoot was the bathroom scene at the end of the film, where she’s donning a neck brace and spring fling dress.
Rapp is not afraid to talk about how much of a fan she was of McAdams growing up “unknowingly because I was obsessed and had a crush on her,” she says, tipping her hat to the actress who came before her. “She made it really easy in a way because she already had created this beautiful thing. So, I was like, ‘alright, well, this is what it looks like to me.’”
As a kid growing up in Huntersville, North Carolina, Rapp loved singing and putting on shows around her neighborhood. She started dance class when she was three and auditioned for her first musical, Annie, when she was 10 (and played an ‘added orphan’), according to an interview with the Associated Press. “I started doing it but not in a really serious way. I did it as a means for my parents to get me out of the house because I was rambunctious and problematic and also to be on stage and to be singing. That was the only thing I cared about,” she told AP.
Performing in musicals naturally led to competing in the 2018 Jimmy Awards and winning the top prize alongside Andrew Barth Feldman, who also recently made his film debut. She says she didn’t even meet Feldman until after they won. Now, they’re friends and she spent last Christmas with him.
In 2019, Rapp was offered the role of Regina George in the stage musical by creator and writer, Tina Fey, and executive producer Lorne Michaels.
“I think she said no to Broadway,” Fey recounts to Broadway Direct of a meeting with Rapp in Lorne’s SNL office. “My recollection of it is we offered her Broadway…I believe she sort of said like, ‘I don’t know, I want to work on my music.’ Lorne and I were like, just come and have a meeting with us. I just gave her the hard sell: ‘You’ll have plenty of time to work on your music and you could be doing this and [the show at] night.’”
“And for whatever reason – probably because she met Lorne, nothing to do with my hard sell – she was like ‘okay, I’ll try it.’ I am forever grateful. Her run on Broadway was amazing.”
That Broadway run was cut short when the pandemic started in March 2020 and live performances were halted. Mean Girlsannounced it wouldn’t reopen again.
With Broadway paused, Rapp began auditioning for TV and movies per her agent’s suggestion, she told the Associated Press, since those entertainment mediums were likely to resume first. She landed the role of Leighton Murray on HBO Max’s Sex Lives of College Girls but told the Associated Press she wouldn’t even have auditioned for it if Mean Girls was still running.
Sometimes, things happen for a reason. It was her performance on the streaming show that excited Fey as they began casting the Mean Girls film.
“I was so impressed to see her learning curve of Jimmy Award winner [to] television comedy actor. She understood it immediately. She is so funny, but it’s so small. She really understands the shift to on-camera acting,” Fey says of Rapp to Broadway Direct.
A shift also had to be made to bring the stage version of Mean Girls back to the big screen. Making their feature directorial debut are co-directors Samatha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr, who say their movie musical inspiration for this adaptation was Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. “It’s a musical. It rhymes. It’s an iambic pentameter. There’s [pop] hits all over the place,” Perez Jr. told Broadway Direct. “I think the attitude Baz had about pushing it and going for it – we tried to keep it up. Obviously, it’s a different genre, but that’s the spirit.”
Also starring in the new film are Angourie Rice, Auli’i Cravalho, Avantika, Bebe Wood, Christopher Briney, Jenna Fischer, and Busy Philipps. Tony Award nominee Jaquel Spivey (A Strange Loop) plays Damian. Tina Fey and Tim Meadows reprise their roles from 20 years ago.
The new film blends the original 2004 movie with the 2018 stage production into a new version tailored for a 2024 audience. That means there are still many of the famous lines from the movie with several added songs (by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin) from the musical.
“What we really appreciated about the Broadway narrative construction of it is that Janice (Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho) and Damien (Spivey) are our all-knowing narrators and the story is told through their mind’s eye in their hindsight. It’s not necessarily objectively what occurred, but it’s what they perceived occurred,” Jayne said.
Ashley Park, who originated Gretchen Weiners on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal, plays French teacher Madame Park in the film. It’s a nod to her role on Emily in Paris. She’s the only cast member from the original musical in the new film.
Rapp, who didn’t overlap with Park on Broadway, says filming the movie was “more in her wheelhouse” than doing eight shows a week.
“I definitely like acting on camera more than I do on stage. I like performing on stage more than I do on camera, if that makes sense,” she says to Broadway Direct.
But if Broadway called, would she give it another shot?
“Yeah, I would love to,” she says without a beat. “I just saw Merrily We Roll Along with my brother a couple of weeks ago. I was crying. It was amazing. They’re all so good. I especially admire theatrical actors. So, I would definitely love to do something again that I’m really passionate about.”
When pressed on specifics, she cites Cabaret, noting that it’s already coming with set casting.
“I’ve done a lot – well, not a lot. I’ve had two jobs but I’m milking this one…bitchy comedy and I’d like to do something more serious.”
Mean Girls is in movie theaters beginning January 12, 2024.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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