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  WINDY CITY TIMES

NUNN ON ONE THEATER Eric Huffman goes from 'Mormon' to 'Mean Girls'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2020-01-07

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The original Mean Girls movie was partially based on a self-help book and was released in 2004. Now that the popular tale has turned 15 years old, it's the perfect time to wear pink and celebrate its legacy in the theater.

Mean Girls follows the story of teenager Cady Heron, who moves with her family from Africa to an Illinois suburb and attends public school. Heron joins a clique called the "Plastics," and antics ensue courtesy of a "Burn Book" full of juicy stories at the school.

Damian Hubbard is the gay character in a storyline that was a vast improvement on the typical stereotype. Openly gay performer Eric Huffman plays that role in the musical version and brings experience from a past national tour with The Book of Mormon.

Tina Fey wrote the Mean Girls book and her husband, Jeff Richmond, worked on the music before Mean Girls the Musical premiered on Broadway at the August Wilson Theatre in 2018.

Huffman explained on the phone about the differences in this version of Mean Girls before the Chicago premiere.

Windy City Times: Hi, Eric. Start off by talking about your backgound.

Eric Huffman: I grew in Kansas City. I did theater as a kid, then auditioned for some colleges and got in. Right as I was graduating, The Book of Mormon was casting a Chicago company. I was in that production for seven years. I had two weeks off, then joined Mean Girls!

WCT: You were with the Ben Platt group?

EH: Sure was!

WCT: Were you a fan of the Mean Girls movie?

EH: I am a huge fan of the movie. I saw the show in DC when they were doing an out of town tryout. We had an overlap where both of our shows were there. I had been thinking about leaving Mormon and what I would do next. I saw that role and knew I was going to play it.

WCT: Wow. So you just knew?

EH: Yes. I told everyone that was my role and what I was doing next. I can't believe that it worked out. I have only done that twice and it was for Mormon and Mean Girls. I did it! [Laughs]

WCT: Talk about your role in Mean Girls.

EH: Damian Hubbard is the one that's notoriously known as "too gay to function." In the musical, he and Janis Sarkisian narrate the show, which is in an addition from the movie. They intentionally don't play the social game like the "Plastics" do and are proud of that. When faced with the opportunity of Cady Heron, they have a fun toy to play with and don't mess around! They make her do it for them. It's fun.

WCT: The original actor who played your role in the movie was gay in real life also. Have you met Daniel Franzese?

EH: No, I haven't, but I am hoping to in L.A. I know a group of people from the movie are coming when we perform there. I just don't know who or when.

WCT: Have you met Tina Fey?

EH: Yes. She's actually way more hands-on than we thought. She was there almost every rehearsal, giving input and feedback. It was really awesome having her around. She really cares about this show. It's beautiful.

She was not a diva or didn't have any sort of attitude. She would show up and ask, "What are we doing today, guys?" It was just fun!

WCT: Is "Fearless," from Mean Girls, your favorite song or do you have a different one?

EH: "Fearless" is my favorite song from the show, which is sad, because I'm not in it.

WCT: You watch it in the wings?

EH: I do, every night! I have little moments with everyone that runs by that way. I will say, "You can do it" or something like that.

WCT: What do you want to tell people about Mean Girls the Musical?

EH: Two things. First, it's an excellent update from the movie, not just an adaptation. A lot of themes and issues that the movie touches on have been talked about more with this new generation. Things like bullying and identity were cutting-edge 15 years ago and are now part of the mainstream conversation. The musical takes everything a step further and goes deeper, which is really nice.

Second, on the gay front, it's interesting playing a role like this now, as opposed to the movie; in the movie, he's more of a background character. He was known as just the gay one before, but now it's more talked about and acceptable. He's more confident in the musical than he was in the movie. He's allowed to be himself a bit more and be celebrated for that. I think it's really fun to play that.

WCT: You have a really great role.

EH: Yes, I do. I want to stick with this for a while. It's a great company to work for and we are going for at least a year.

My character, Damian, is well-paced, too. Poor Danielle Wade, who plays Cady, doesn't get to breathe. She starts the show wearing four costumes on top of each other, because she doesn't have time to change her clothes, she just strips one off. I get little breaks built in, which is so nice. I get awesome numbers, then I have a break for five minutes. It's a rarity, because most people in this show don't.

WCT: How much is the cast playing their roles like the movie versions?

EH: We are really making it our own. They were very insistent on that and letting us be ourselves, which is refreshing. Mary Kate Morrissey, who plays our Janice Sarkisian, is the closest to her movie character. Ironically, MK is the one principal who never watched the movie. She didn't watch it, because she didn't want to be influenced by it.

The writing for my character is different than it is for the movie. I couldn't even begin to be exactly like him.

WCT: I prefer that, because one time I interview the lead for Pretty Woman the Musical and asked if it was a fresh take. She said yes, then I see the show and she copied exactly off Julia Roberts—down to the breaks and expressions in the dialogue.

EH: Oh, no! It was part of the audition process that the final callback was more like a coaching session than an audition. They wanted to play with the roles and see what was right together. It was very interesting.

WCT: Do you notice more pink in the audience on Wednesday performances?

EH: Definitely. I don't actually own anything pink. I have a couple of red shirts, so I try to wear red on Wednesdays.

WCT: You have to step up your game.

EH: I know. I'm close!

WCT: Maybe your fans can bring you pink shirts and boas.

EH: I would wear it if they do.

WCT: What is your favorite thing about touring?

EH: I like seeing all the cities. So many cities have different personalities that you wouldn't know until you experience it. I like to get a feel for the culture and food across the country.

WCT: Do you have a "Burn Book?"

EH: [Laughs] Only in my head!

Check out the totally "fetch" musical Mean Girls at James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Dec. 25-Jan. 26. Tickets and parking can be found at BroadwayInChicago.com .


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