Louis Peitzman

The “Mean Girls” Musical Is As Fun As It Sounds

Joan Marcus

Cady (Erika Henningsen), Gretchen (Ashley Park), Regina (Taylor Louderman), Karen (Kate Rockwell), and Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) in Mean Girls.

If you wait long enough, all of the beloved teen movies from your childhood will end up on the stage. Bring It On hit Broadway in 2012 while Heathers enjoyed a critically acclaimed run off-Broadway in 2014, and Clueless and Jawbreaker have been in development for years. Now Mean Girls is poised for its Broadway debut: The new musical — with a book by Tina Fey, music by Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Nell Benjamin — is having its pre-Broadway tryout at the National Theatre in Washington, DC, before it opens at the August Wilson Theatre in April 2018.

There will certainly be changes made before Mean Girls transfers to the Great White Way, but the current production bodes well for the Broadway run: This show is already in pretty good shape. The movie — with its larger-than-life characters and bubblegum pink aesthetic — was crying to be musicalized, and the show does a great job of capturing the quirks and quotables that made Fey’s film an enduring early 2000s classic. The Mean Girls musical may not yet have the standalone power of Legally Blonde, but with some finessing, it could get there. Here’s a look at what’s already working and what could use some fine-tuning before the Broadway run.

Joan Marcus

Janis and Damian (Grey Henson) show Cady around North Shore High School.

Anyone concerned that the Mean Girls musical wouldn’t feel like the movie can rest easy — this is a deeply faithful adaptation. That makes sense given that Fey wrote both, but it’s still a relief to diehard fans. As in the movie, Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen) transfers to North Shore High School after years of being homeschooled in Kenya. She meets outcasts Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and Damian (Grey Henson), who encourage her to spy on the mega-popular mean girls who take her under their wing. These are the Plastics: neurotic Gretchen Wieners (Ashley Park), simple Karen Smith (Kate Rockwell), and ruthless Queen Bee Regina George (Taylor Louderman).

For those who have seen the movie — or, you know, any teen movie — there are few surprises in this musical adaptation. But that’s OK! Part of what you’re looking for in a musical like Mean Girls is that comforting sense of familiarity, which is why Fey was wise to make sure her book hews closely to the original script. There are new jokes and some minor plot adjustments, but for the most part this is the Mean Girls you already know and love. And yes, nearly all of the most iconic lines (most of them Damian’s) have been preserved so that you, too, can cheer at “she doesn’t even go here” and “you go, Glenn Coco.”

Joan Marcus

The Plastics invite Cady to sit with them.

One of the challenges of adapting a popular movie for the stage is that audiences come into the show with impossible expectations — for them, the characters are inextricably tied to the actors who originally played them. That presents a unique challenge for the actors taking on these roles: They have to take some inspiration from the movie characters to avoid alienating fans while also making enough of their own choices to stand out. Luckily the musical’s Plastics — Louderman, Park, and Rockwell — expertly walk that line. Their performances are familiar without being mere copycats of the original.

Park, who proved herself to be the most exciting person onstage in the recent revivals of Sunday in the Park With George and The King and I, imbues her Gretchen Wieners with her own blend of high-strung weirdness and barely repressed self-awareness. And while Rockwell doesn’t get to show as much range as Karen — outside of Karen’s impressive range of stupidity — she gives the character a sweetness that makes her more likable than in the film. But it’s Louderman who steals the show, as Regina is wont to do, with a performance that captures the depths of Regina’s evil and the vulnerability that made her that way. In one of the show’s best numbers, “Watch the World Burn,” she rises Elphaba-like from the stage. Being wicked never looked so good.

But what about the non-Plastics, the art freaks who take Cady in before she moves on to a cooler crowd? The Mean Girls musical wisely keeps Janis and Damian front and center by letting them lead a sort of wraparound story in which they reflect on the school year that upended the social hierarchy (and led to Regina George getting hit by a bus). Making these two the narrators reflects the fact that they’ve always been Mean Girls’ most relatable characters — and the only two characters you’d actually want to hang out with.

And because this is a musical, they both really get their chance to shine. Janis’s “big lesbian crush on you” speech becomes the glorious anthem “I’d Rather Be Me,” while Damian gets to celebrate his penchant for theatricality with the first big showstopper, “Where Do You Belong?” In the movie, it always felt like Damian could do more than just croon “Beautiful,” and Henson is adept at harnessing that star quality to great effect. The “too much” persona that makes him an outcast in high school makes Damian the perfect fit for a Broadway musical. As Janis, Weed — who earned her high school movie musical stripes as Veronica in the incredible Heathers — is endlessly compelling, embodying the paradox of an effortlessly cool loser.

Joan Marcus

The Plastics gather at the mall.

Realistically, the Burn Book would not exist in this day and age: That’s what social media is for. The Mean Girls musical has it both ways, retaining the original Burn Book — how could you not — while also adjusting to a more modern era. That means the Plastics’ disastrous Christmas number at the talent show becomes a viral moment. The musical also has some smart things to say about the dangers not only of online bullying but also of online adulation: Part of what inspires Cady’s mean girl transformation is the way she takes all her Twitter faves and Instagram likes to heart.

On a larger scale, this Mean Girls feels a little more socially conscious in a way that reflects our evolving culture. While many will lament the absence of the Unfriendly Black Hotties, it’s nice to see that this North Shore High School is more diverse overall. And it’s significant that one of the Plastics is played by an Asian-American actor. It would be a stretch to call the Mean Girls musical woke — more on that below — but there’s at least a sense that Fey heard the criticisms of some of the more dated aspects of the movie and made adjustments. How refreshing that Cady was raised in a specific African country and not just “Africa” as a general concept. These things matter!

Joan Marcus

Cady flirts with Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig).

Harsh truth: Cady has never been anywhere near the most interesting character in Mean Girls. She’s actually — forgive me — a little bland. In the movie, that was sort of forgivable, because Lindsay Lohan was such a star at the time that we kind of didn’t notice. In the show, Cady can’t really compete alongside the Plastics, not to mention the endless charisma of Janis and Damian. That’s not to say Henningsen isn’t doing a good job: The problem is that there isn’t all that much for her to work with. The love story between Cady and Aaron (Kyle Selig) feels more perfunctory than anything else.

Mean Girls could do more to give a sense of who Cady really is. As it stands, she has generic teen movie traits: She’s naive, she’s hopelessly romantic, she wants to fit in. Even when she turns to the dark side, Cady never really has the edge that the other Plastics do; and sure, we can’t all be Regina George, but the show could stand to let her be a little meaner. Musicals allow characters to expose their interior lives through song: Cady deserves something with more depth and bite than the forgettable “Stupid With Love.”

Joan Marcus

Cady with Mrs. George (Kerry Butler) clutching the Burn Book.

Yes, Mean Girls the musical makes some notable strides into present day when it comes to inclusion, but there are times when it still feels like it’s lagging behind. And there are easy changes the show could make before it transfers to Broadway that would help its representation feel somewhat more evenly applied. Kevin Gnapoor is one notable example: Cheech Manohar is charming, but the character as a whole still feels like a bit of a one-note joke. And while the nod to The Lion King in an early Kenya segment is funny, it only serves to underline the reductive way Mean Girls has always characterized Africa. The musical doesn’t need that.

Then there’s the big message at the end. Mean Girls smartly points out — like Romy and Michele before it — that most of the people who make your life miserable in high school are doing so because they’re miserable in their own way. But given that the characters traffic in slut-shaming (Karen gets called out for her number of sexual partners) and body-shaming (Regina is visibly heavier after all those Kälteen bars), it would be nice to see the show reckon with these dynamics in a sharper, more culturally current way. That might feel overly ambitious for a flashy mainstream musical, but as it stands, Cady’s speech seems to come down to how great everyone looks at prom, and the ending is awfully pat. It’s not that Mean Girls needs to burden itself with big ideas — it’s that the musical is emerging in a world in which teen girls are thinking and writing about these issues. The show doesn’t have to go deep, but it could stand to go a little deeper.

Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

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5 Reasons We're Mourning “Difficult People”

We’re down to one Law & Order franchise, and that means limited opportunities for New York theater actors. (If The Good Wife hadn’t spun off into The Good Fight, this would be an even more serious crisis.) Difficult People didn’t just cast well-known Broadway actors but more under-the-radar talent, people like Nayfack and Escola, who have long been favorites of New York’s downtown theater scene and are now crossing over into the mainstream. Klausner, a long-term member of this scene herself, created roles that showcased these actors, who have now been exposed to an audience that realizes they’ve been missing out for years. We are all better for it.

And, of course, Difficult People also allowed for some bigger name theater cameos: Nathan Lane and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among them. This was a series steeped in a genuine love for theater, which played out not only in casting but also in storylines and, again, the nichest of niche jokes. For those of us who are similarly theater-oriented and who still haven’t really recovered from the cancellation of Smash, that meant something. What other show is going to make the bold statement that people who think Sondheim’s music isn’t “danceable or very catchy … can go fuck themselves”? Difficult People was a series that pandered to the queers, the outcasts, and the theater trash for once; we loved every minute of it.

This 30-Year-Old Play About Gender And Asian Identity Is More Relevant Than Ever

Matthew Murphy

Clive Owen and Jin Ha in M. Butterfly

When M. Butterfly premiered on Broadway in 1988, audiences were stunned to discover that the central character, Song Liling, was actually a man. Nearly 30 years later, as the revival runs at the Cort Theatre, the cat is out of the bag.

The story of M. Butterfly, which won three Tony Awards including Best Play, is now more well known than the real-life story it was based on — the affair between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu. The culture has also progressed, and with it our language and sensitivity surrounding gender identity: The reveal of a character’s gender as a surprise twist, once a feature of M. Butterfly, now seems like a dangerously regressive relic.

Lia Chang

David Henry Hwang

That’s something playwright David Henry Hwang was well-aware of when he set about revising his play for a new production directed by Julie Taymor. In revisiting his seminal work, Hwang undertook a heavy rewrite, one in which Song’s gender is addressed early on — and the themes of toxic masculinity and Asian gender stereotypes are as clear as ever.

“Thirty years ago so much of the shock of the play was in its reveal about Song Liling, and that’s not so shocking anymore,” Hwang told BuzzFeed News. “But I do think what’s kind of shocking actually is the degree to which the play and a lot of the issues still feel current.”

The basic story of the play is the same: Rene Gallimard (Clive Owen) is working for the French Embassy in China when he meets enigmatic opera star Song Liling (Jin Ha). While he believes Song to be his “perfect woman,” Song is actually a man pretending to be a woman to spy on Gallimard. Nevertheless, the two fall in love and embark on a secret affair that conforms to Gallimard’s traditional notions of male-female relations, with Gallimard seemingly unaware of Song’s true gender identity.

Part of what makes this production of M. Butterfly seem so timely is that Hwang, along with Taymor, were able to look at it from a modern lens. But many of the big-picture ideas — chief among them the conflict between East and West, and the way archaic conceptions of gender and race play into that — have been essential to the play from the moment of its inception.

And, of course, there’s the simple matter of timing: The play is running in the midst of a cultural tipping point, in which several high-profile men have been accused of sexual harassment and assault. Hwang specifically mentioned Harvey Weinstein, but his interview with BuzzFeed News came before the allegations against Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., among others. M. Butterfly is about a consensual relationship, but toxic masculinity is central to its identity.

“These issues of masculinity as being defined by the ability to subjugate women have become super in the consciousness with the Harvey Weinstein stuff and certainly with our president and this sense that he seems to [believe] the way that you deal with foreign policy is to take this abrasive very toxic masculine, ‘you just have to be forceful’ [approach],” Hwang said. “That’s very much an M. Butterfly kind of argument and point of view. It’s like, we’re kind of back living in an M. Butterfly world, even more so than we were two or three years ago.”

Matthew Murphy

Jin Ha as Song Liling.

Hwang is no stranger to revising earlier works, and not just his own. In 2002, he did a radical update on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song in part to combat its stereotypical depiction of Chinese-Americans. But the decision to go back to work on M. Butterfly couldn’t just be about rewriting it for a new, more socially conscious audience. “To update a play in order to conform to what’s going on in a particular moment, a contemporary moment, I don’t think that in and of itself is enough reason to rewrite a play,” Hwang said.

For Hwang, returning to M. Butterfly meant delving deep, including researching new information about the real-life couple who inspired the story. He also talked to several people with nonconforming gender identities to get better insight into the character of Song, who ultimately wants Gallimard to see him for his maleness. The character is not trans, Hwang stressed, but he recognized how Song might be differently received by a modern audience more savvy about the wide spectrum of gender identity.

Joan Marcus

John Lithgow and BD Wong in the original Broadway production of M. Butterfly.

It was in reworking the play, however, that Hwang realized how much of his original text already matched the culture we’re living in. Even as he made major changes — many of which he attributes to becoming a more mature writer — he was surprised by how on point so much of M. Butterly was. These ideas, which may have once felt radical, were now largely in tune with an ongoing national conversation.

It’s not only that the play has dovetailed with the culture at large — it’s also that M. Butterfly has impacted that culture. M. Butterfly was the first Asian-American play produced on Broadway and was hugely influential in terms of Asian-American representation in theater, simply by showing that it could be done, and profitably. “The pace felt really slow,” Hwang admitted, but he’s been encouraged by the increasing presence of Asian-American onstage and behind the scenes.

But while Hwang has championed Asian-American inclusion as a playwright and an activist, M. Butterfly’s influence can also be felt in the text itself. Hwang certainly wasn’t the first to identify the link between race, gender, and politics, but he wrote the play at a time before “intersectionality” was a term embraced by the mainstream. He also made a point of exploring the gendered stereotypes that continue to surround Asian and Asian-American people, back when these ideas weren’t widely discussed, particularly not on the platform of a Broadway stage.

M. Butterfly was undeniably ahead of its time, but Hwang believes its relevance in 2017 is directly tied to the way the country has regressed. “I’m surprised that the idea of Asian women being submissive continues to be pretty strong in the culture, particularly given the degree to which Asian countries and China in particular have become more dominant over past 30 years,” Hwang said. “The world actually has taken a bit of a step back.”

Matthew Murphy

Ha and the company of M. Butterfly.

The timing of M. Butterfly also feels oddly appropriate because of two other shows running at the same time — at the Metropolitan, Madama Butterfly, the Puccini opera referenced throughout M. Butterfly; and at the Broadway Theatre, Miss Saigon, a musical inspired by Madama Butterfly.

Hwang has a long and complicated relationship with Miss Saigon. In 1991, he helped galvanize the protests surrounding casting of white actor Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian Engineer in the original production. Pryce went on to win a Tony for his performance, but the role has been played on Broadway by actors of Asian descent since. (Filipino actor Jon Jon Briones plays the role in the current revival.) The ripple effects of the protests are still being felt: The practice of yellowface has somehow still not ended entirely, but the instances in theater appear to be fewer and farther between, and rarely emerge without a fight.

Matthew Murphy

Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada in the revival of Miss Saigon.

Given the success of M. Butterfly, a play that unpacks the white savior narratives that many have criticized Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon for perpetuating, these concurrent productions might seem like another step back. Hwang, however, has a more nuanced perspective. “If M. Butterfly‘s successful in affecting the culture, I don’t think the point is to say, we can’t do Madame Butterfly again, or we shouldn’t have a Miss Saigon,” he said.

The point is awareness, he explains. If we are living in a new culture with a better understanding of intersectionality and the harmful effects of archaic stereotypes, then we have to approach older works with a clear head and a willingness to engage. Sometimes that means rewriting, and sometimes that means recognizing cultural context and calling out the missteps. This is the work Hwang has been trying to do for the past few decades.

“If M. Butterfly‘s successful, what it allows us to do is just be aware — when we go into see a Madame Butterfly, yes, we can enjoy the music and we can enjoy the costumes and also realize there’s this kind of subliminal message and sometimes explicit message that we’re getting, which is about Western dominance, which is about Asian women being submissive, which is about white male supremacy,” Hwang said. “And I think we should be able to be conscious enough to parse that.”




Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

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The Other Stephen King Adaptations We Should Be Talking About

You could call 2017 the year of Stephen King if Stephen King had ever really gone out of style. But it’s true: We’ve seen an abundance of King adaptations over the last several months, from forgettable trainwrecks like The Dark Tower in July to the record-breaking success of It just this month. Then there are the TV series — Spike’s The Mist and Audience’s Mr. Mercedes, as well as Hulu’s Castle Rock, which is currently filming.

With so much going on in the world of King, it’s easy to miss something — such as the two motion picture adaptations hitting Netflix this fall. Arriving on Netflix this Friday is Gerald’s Game, based on King’s 1992 novel, a psychosexual thriller about BDSM roleplay gone very wrong. Then there’s 1922, which debuts on Netflix on Oct. 20; it’s a nasty little horror story based on the novella from the 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars. Both films had their pre-Netflix premieres at Fantastic Fest in Austin, prompting visceral reactions from King fans, along with well-earned sighs of relief.

In terms of source material, Gerald’s Game is certainly more well-known, but it’s still considered one of King’s lesser works. It’s also an incredibly tricky novel to adapt: The whole thing takes place in one room and in the memories and hallucinations of its protagonist, Jessie. Played in the film by Carla Gugino, Jessie finds herself handcuffed to a bed in a remote cabin when her husband, the titular Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), has a heart attack after trying to engage her in an aborted rape fantasy. As she struggles with dehydration and a very persistent dog, she begins seeing things, including visions of her own escape and flashbacks to her traumatic past. It’s essentially a kinky take on Cujo (King’s infamous rabid dog even gets name-checked). That Gerald’s Game hews close to the book and still manages to work so well is a credit to director Mike Flanagan, who cowrote the screenplay with Jeff Howard.

There is some streamlining, which is helpful. In the book, Jessie imagines several personas as she’s losing touch with reality; in the film, it’s all pretty much a debate between projections of herself (a healthier, less handcuffed-to-the-bed version) and Gerald (looking a little worse for wear now that the dog has been tearing at his corpse). Gugino and Greenwood are exceptional throughout — the former is especially good at playing both iterations of Jessie. But it’s not just the script and the performances that make Gerald’s Game so compelling; it’s that this is the kind of confined suburban horror that King does so well. Yes, there’s a boogeyman that Jessie may or may not be imagining — Twin Peaks’ Carel Struycken plays a bone-collecting giant lurking in the shadows — but Gerald’s Game is more about Jessie’s personal demons, the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, and her fears that Gerald, no matter how good he might have looked on paper, was just another monster.

King deserves a lot of credit for how deftly this story plays out, just as Flanagan should be praised for seamlessly translating it for the screen. There was a fine line to walk here, as Gerald’s Game moves from a darkly comedic nightmare to Jessie’s painful recollections of what her father (Henry Thomas) did to her. It’s here that Gerald’s Game becomes more Dolores Claiborne than Cujo — there’s also a very pointed reference to the former, as in the novel. And then the film arcs back again, as the deeply unpleasant flashbacks fade back into Jessie’s current predicament: It’s a careful balancing act. In the end, the real-life horror gives way to a scene of such heightened violence that the humor floods back in, along with a lot of screaming — from Jessie and the audience.

While Gerald’s Game is restrained by the nature of its story, it’s far from subtle; 1922, on the other hand, frequently holds back. It’s not exactly underplayed, but it’s slower and more deliberate, and while that pacing is sometimes questionable, which ultimately makes the film less successful than Netflix’s other King adaptation, the overall effect is a more grounded horror story that relies largely on dread. “This will not end well” is the subtext of every scene, made literal by the rats that won’t stop trailing Wilfred James (Thomas Jane).

Wilfred is not Jessie in Gerald’s Game — you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone rooting for him. He’s a selfish, petty farmer who decides his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), is too controlling and convinces his young teenage son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to help him murder her. Jane has done King before, in both good adaptations (the film version of The Mist) and bad (the largely reviled Dreamcatcher), but Wilfred is an especially tough nut to crack. There aren’t really any sympathetic characters in this story. Even Henry, though a clear victim of his father’s coercion, is still doomed from the start as a willing participant in matricide.

And so what we’re left with is a story that’s, again, classic King: Nothing buried ever stays buried. The question isn’t if Wilfred will get his comeuppance but how. And as things go from bad to worse in mundane but no less gutting ways, the story takes a supernatural slant. Arlette refuses to stay dead, stalking Wilfred through his empty farmhouse, and the rats who desecrated her corpse are always trailing behind. Whether it’s all in Wilfred’s head or not is sort of beside the point — he’s haunted all the same.

Writer-director Zak Hilditch creates some truly stunning visuals, as well as some deeply distressing ones. (Anyone with even the slightest aversion to rodents should steer clear.) He also knows when to hold back: While Gerald’s Game climaxes in an outrageously brutal act of violence, 1922 ends up leaving a lot to the imagination. It’s a risky gambit for a film that’s been building up to something big from the beginning, but it ultimately helps the movie leave a more chilling impression. The details matter less than the sheer fact of Wilfred’s doom, which was fated from the moment of his unforgivable transgression.

1922 is not the crowd-pleaser that Gerald’s Game will likely be: It’s meaner, less triumphant, and sparse in a way that is likely to alienate some viewers. But it’s another solid King adaptation and a good sign of things to come. Hilditch shows a lot of promise here, and he’s attracted some serious talent — Schmid is especially good as the tortured, malleable Henry. If we’re going to keep making and remaking stories from the King canon, then let’s hope they’re all as thoughtful and carefully crafted as these Netflix films, which — even when they falter — show respect for the source material as well as a desire to elevate it with distinctly cinematic flair.

Because these are stories worth telling, gripping tales of past sins refusing to stay buried and the monsters that are always lurking in the shadows. Gerald’s Game and 1922 both play with the idea of the blurry line between fantasy and reality, and how fear can overtake you whether the threat is merely imagined or plainly in-your-face. That is the essence of why King works, and it was part of what made It — about a creature that embodies the purest distillation of fear — such a memorable experience. It doesn’t matter if the giants or the rats or the evil clowns are really there: The horror always is.

How One Play Is Amplifying Trans Voices In Theater

Joan Marcus

The cast of MCC’s Charm at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

We might not think of etiquette as gendered, but it is — the manners we’re taught at a young age often rely on a traditional conception of what boys and girls ought to do. In the more progressive, less binary world of 2017, that can be stifling, if not archaic. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Will Davis, director of the off-Broadway play Charm.

In working on the play, about a charm class for young queer people, Davis discovered a way to shake his negative connotations of etiquette. “There’s this other definition and way to look at it, which is about deep empathy,” he told BuzzFeed News from the mezzanine of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village, where Charm opened on Sept. 18. “There’s another perspective to look at it from, which is ways in which you can think to prepare a space for somebody else. And that just really struck me as being powerful, a way to combat a sense of divisiveness.”

Charm not only gives audiences a new way to think about good manners; the play also offers new perspectives on gender identity, and the way trans lives can and should be represented onstage. For Davis, who is trans, Charm reflects an essential conversation about inclusion in theater — and, ideally, a way forward.

“I wanted to be an artistic director because I wanted to up my activism.”

Written by Philip Dawkins, the play was inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen and her work teaching etiquette at the Center on Halsted, an LGBT community center in Chicago. Here, Allen becomes Mama Darleena Andrews, played in the MCC Theater production by Sandra Caldwell, who booked the role after auditioning as an openly trans woman for the first time. Charm depicts Mama’s attempts to connect with the young queer people she calls “babies,” and the generational divide that informs their radically different perspectives. The babies represent a wide spectrum of gender identities — not to mention racial identities and class backgrounds that reflect the diversity of the trans experience — and the cast features the same gender diversity.

“A piece like this that has the potential to be such a vehicle and such a platform for trans-identified actors, there is a big responsibility that I felt, and I know all of MCC felt, to make sure that we got actors whose identities aligned with the characters,” Davis said. “That has not always been true in other productions of this play, and it was, for me, a requirement in order to agree to do this show.”

Joan Marcus

Beta (Marquise Vilson) and Lady (Marky Irene Diven).

Davis was prepared to have a conversation about why Charm had to be cast the way it was; fortunately, MCC was committed from the beginning. But while there appears to be more of a push for authenticity and inclusion in theatrical casting across the board, countless productions still struggle — or fail to even try — casting appropriately when it comes to gender identity. The use of cis actors in trans roles also remains a regular practice in film and television, where actors like The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne and Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor have earned accolades for playing trans women.

The excuse often used by producers for this lack of representation is that trans actors are hard to find or untrained, something that makes Davis “incredibly angry” to hear. “That’s been said about every marginalized group of actors ever. That’s not particular to queer and trans folks. That’s particular to actors of color, to women,” he said. “If you’re in a position in which you’re saying that, that actually means the responsibility for finding them and training them lies with you.”

Davis acknowledged that casting Charm did require putting in the effort and thinking outside of the box. He connected with activists and others who work in the queer community in order to bring in trans-identifying performers who might not have representation or even professional acting experience. And while he’s usually opposed to video auditions, he made an exception for actors who weren’t able to travel to New York and try out in person.

“It felt like, let us work every angle,” Davis said. “We’ll jump [through] the hoops instead of asking this other population to do that.”

Joan Marcus

From left to right: Logan (Michael Lorz), Ariela (Hailie Sahar), Mama (Sandra Caldwell), Victoria (Lauren F. Walker), Donnie (Michael David Baldwin), and Jonelle (Jojo Brown).

As the artistic director of Chicago’s American Theater Company, Davis is the first trans person to run a significant arts institution in the US. He takes that responsibility seriously, not only in terms of the way he casts his shows but also in how he continues to be outspoken about inclusion and representation. Discrimination in the theater community, whether conscious or not, is a very real problem, and there are those who avoid speaking out for fear of reprisal. That’s all the more reason why he is “as vocal as possible.”

“I wanted to be an artistic director because I wanted to up my activism,” Davis said. “I have the ability in conversation with the playwright and the producer and everyone to make decisions about the bodies onstage. I don’t want to let anyone down.”

Joan Marcus

Mama (Caldwell) and Ariela (Sahar).

For Davis, activism also means challenging the dominant perspective on what sells and what doesn’t. Mainstream theater is often so concerned with appealing to a wide audience that stories about marginalized communities fall to the wayside. Plays about queer people may find a home downtown, but they rarely make it to a big Broadway theater. And Charm isn’t just a story with trans characters — it’s a play that actively engages with generational divides within the trans community. Mama encourages the youths she’s mentoring to stick to one gender presentation to avoid confusing nontrans people, and she struggles to come to terms with a more modern conception of gender fluidity and pronouns.

Just as Mama worries about the trans community alienating straight cis people, less daring theatrical producers and directors might be concerned about turning off subscribers with a play that dives deep into the ever-changing politics of trans identity. But Davis notes that the success of Charm lies in its specificity: The play is relatable in part because it is grounded in the real, lived experiences of trans people, and that includes debating complicated questions about terminology and gender expression. In a larger sense, Davis is tired of being told that some theater — and it’s almost always theater about marginalized groups — isn’t sellable.

“Folks leaving this process are going to enrich the landscape of the American theater.”

“Whether people are conscious of it or not, they’re telling me that non-straight white narratives don’t have worth if they’re saying that won’t sell or if they’re saying that’s alienating to an audience,” Davis said. “They’re telling me that the people who represent a non-cis white world are not of value.”

As frustrating as the theater community can be at times, Davis has had plenty of successes, and Charm continues to be an immensely rewarding experience for him. He’s optimistic about the future of trans representation onstage, particularly if more people — including people from different backgrounds than his — are able to make themselves heard. And, of course, if those in positions of power are willing to listen and adapt.

Davis believes there will always be plays like Charm, works that are in conversation with a contemporary cultural moment. But going forward, he also hopes that theater can broaden its perception of the classics in the canon, and who gets to play those roles. He’s been “deeply touched” watching the actors in Charm bloom, and he knows they can continue to do great work — whether in plays about trans identity or not.

“I’m so excited about this show, this production of this show, but in a way, I’m also almost more excited about what these actors are gonna get to do after this show because they have been provided resources they haven’t had in the past,” Davis said. “I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats. … Folks leaving this process are going to enrich the landscape of the American theater because of the things that this production could provide for them.”

Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

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Here Are The Major Differences Between The Original Script Of “It” And The Version You Saw

Warner Bros.

For a while, it seemed like It was never going to see the light of day: Warner Bros.’ adaptation of the epic Stephen King novel had been plagued by false starts over eight years of development. Cary Fukunaga was first attached to direct in 2012, with a script he cowrote with Chase Palmer. But Fukunaga exited the project in May 2015 over creative differences, later saying, “I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience.”

After a brief period of uncertainty, It moved forward that July with a new director, Andy Muschietti, and a script rewritten by Gary Dauberman. Despite the ill omen of production turmoil, the film that finally arrived in theaters on Sept. 8 has proved to be a massive success, earning record-breaking box office numbers and raves from critics. While it’s not a conventional horror film, it’s undeniably more accessible than the version Fukunaga envisioned. BuzzFeed News has obtained a copy of the original Fukunaga-Palmer script, which is vastly different from what ended up onscreen. (A representative for Warner Bros. said the creative team was unable to comment due to scheduling.)

Here’s a look at the It that could have been: a darker, nastier, and likely less commercial affair.

1. The names have been changed, along with some character traits.

Warner Bros.

For reasons unknown, Fukunaga and Palmer changed some of the names from King’s novel. (BuzzFeed News reached out to Fukunaga’s publicist for a comment on this, as well as the other changes outlined in this post.) In their script, Bill is Will — an especially odd choice, as those are basically the same name — and Henry Bowers is Travis Bowers. Everyone else gets to keep their original names, thankfully. The more jarring change about Bill — er, Will — is that he doesn’t stutter. It’s not exactly essential to the plot, but it’s one of his most defining characteristics.

2. There are way more parents.

Warner Bros.

In Fukunaga and Palmer’s version, Beverly’s mom is alive and well, although she doesn’t have much to do aside from a scene in which she dangles a used tampon in front of her daughter’s face. (There’s…a lot about menstruation in this script. More on that below!) Will’s mom is also around, broken and withdrawn following the death of her youngest son, George. And, perhaps most importantly, Mike has two living parents. As in the novel, Mike’s father tells his son about his own encounter with Pennywise, making him the only adult to comprehend what’s really going on in Derry.

3. There’s a bit more homophobia…

Warner Bros.

In King’s novel, the bigotry lurking beneath Derry is directly linked to It: He feeds on the hatred, but he also infects the citizens of the town so that they act on it. It’s not just the racism directed at Mike and his family, but also violent homophobia. The novel depicts a brutal hate crime in which Adrian Mellon, a gay man, is beaten nearly to death by a group of teens; Pennywise arrives to finish him off. While Fukunaga and Palmer’s script does not feature Adrian — which would be in the sequel, anyway — it does incorporate some casual homophobia among our heroes. When Richie and Will are parting ways, Richie says, “Don’t fag out.” Will responds, “Fag you later.” Unpleasant, to be sure, but not inaccurate for young teens in the late ’80s!

4. And the racism is far more spelled out.

Warner Bros.

The racism is much more surface-level in Fukunaga and Palmer’s iteration of It than in the version in theaters. In the Muschietti film, Henry tells Mike to get out of his town. In the earlier script, Travis calls Mike the n-word, accuses him of stealing his knife, and brands him a “jungle monkey.” His father, Officer Bowers, is just as abhorrent, dragging Mike in for questioning after Patrick Hockstetter disappears. He repeatedly calls Mike “boy” and later refers to him as the “Negro boy.” By clearly underlining the deep-seated racism that infects Derry, this version of It provides a fuller portrait of Mike’s isolation — he’s not an outsider by choice.

The script also reveals how Mike’s father narrowly escaped the burning of a black nightclub, The Black Spot, when he was younger. The It in theaters alludes to this horrific incident in Derry’s racist history, but Fukunaga and Palmer opted to show it all. Which brings us to…

5. There are major flashbacks.

Warner Bros.

As he’s dying of cancer in the Fukunaga-Palmer script, Mike’s father, Leroy, recounts the awful night the Black Spot was burned down — and we see it all. A 13-year-old Leroy has snuck into the club with his friend Dick. (The script doesn’t mention this, but book readers know that this is Dick Hallorann, whom you might remember from The Shining.) It’s not long before the Legion of Decency, Derry’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, barricades the doors and sets the club ablaze, killing nearly everyone inside. Leroy and Dick barely make it out, and come face to face with Pennywise, dragging away the corpses. “This town is like poison,” Leroy concludes.

That’s not all we see of Derry’s violent past in Fukunaga and Palmer’s telling. Later on, we get an exceedingly blood-soaked flashback to the Silver Dollar Saloon in 1879. As in the novel, Claude Heroux slaughters everyone around him with an axe, driven to madness by Pennywise. While the scene would have significantly upped the gore, it’s also notable for making clear that It has the power to make people do very bad things; similarly, the Black Spot flashback implies that It spurred the already hateful Legion of Decency to commit mass murder. The most unsettling part of the Silver Dollar Saloon scene? The patrons Claude doesn’t kill scarcely notice his spree, even when a decapitated head lands near a drunk’s foot. The moment underlines another aspect of It’s power: the ability to make the citizens of Derry look past the very awful things happening right before their eyes.

6. The threat is more overtly sexual.

Warner Bros.

Beverly’s fear of becoming a woman is subtext in the Muschietti film. In the Fukunaga-Palmer script, there are repeated references to menstruation designed to make the metaphor abundantly clear. Beverly’s mom explains her period in these unpleasant terms: “When it happens, once every 27 days, you’ll bleed, and you’ll bleed the most right before the end.” (Surely there’s a less traumatic way of relaying that information?) Recall that It resurfaces every 27 years. And when the kids are discussing how It manifested their fears, Beverly actually says, “‘IT’ showered me in blood because I just got my period.” Not subtle!

There’s more. Stan’s encounter with It is wildly different and takes place in his temple’s mikveh, where women bathe to purify themselves after menstruation. And it’s also tied to his fears of growing up and his burgeoning sexuality. Here, It appears to him as a naked woman in a tub who attempts to seduce him by saying, “You’re going to be a man soon, won’t you? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” When the woman rises, he sees that she’s covered in sores and missing chunks of flesh — it’s pretty much exactly like that scene in The Shining. King’s novel never shied away from the sexual development of his young characters — sometimes to a fault — but it’s hard to imagine how audiences would have felt seeing it play out on the big screen.

And then there’s Beverly’s father. The movie hints at his incredibly upsetting desire for his daughter, but the original script took it to a whole other deeply uncomfortable level. After discovering the haiku Ben wrote for Beverly, Mr. Marsh demands that she take off her tights so that he can check to see if she’s “intact.” It’s clear that he intends to rape her, and that Pennywise is somehow possessing him. “You’ll like it, Bevvie,” he says. “Be like you’re floating.” Beverly fights him off exactly as she does in the Muschietti movie, but Pennywise isn’t there to grab her — and that changes everything.

7. The climax is completely different.

Brooke Palmer

Beverly is not the damsel in distress in the Fukunaga-Palmer script; instead, she’s an active agent who decides, along with her friends, to go down to It’s lair and kill Pennywise before he can make any more adults do horrific things. In this version, it’s not Beverly who encounters the deadlights, but Stan — he’s pulled away before he loses it entirely, although the trauma he endures surely has something to do with his ultimate fate. The way the kids defeat Pennywise is pretty similar, though at one point, It manifests as a tentacle monster. So that’s new. And while the novel’s infamous gang-bang scene is mercifully avoided, Beverly pointedly takes every boy’s face in her hands so they can find the way out. It’s a pretty clear reference, and not even a little bit nauseating!

8. And there are changes to the ending, too.

Warner Bros.

As in the novel, Travis’s hair turns white after his encounter with It. The Muschietti film left Henry’s fate ambiguous — the fall should have killed him, but who knows — while the original script has Travis taken into custody for killing his father. As for the Losers Club, they still make their blood oath, but there’s no kiss between Will and Beverly. There is, however, a somewhat happier ending, in which they gather again to say goodbye to Will, who is going on vacation with his parents, seemingly less traumatized from George’s death. But the camera lingers on the scars on their hands — and a red balloon floats above them. It’s hard to imagine the Fukunaga-Palmer version of It finding as large an audience as the Muschietti film did, but a sequel was always part of the plan.

Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.