Karen Smith Was Always The Best Mean Girl & The Broadway Musical Proves It

Photo: Courtesy of JOAN MARCUS.
“On Wednesdays we wear pink.” “It's like I have ESPN or something.” “I’m a mouse. Duh.” While characters like Damian (Daniel Franzese) and Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert) are credited with being quote machines, the movie version of Mean Girls’ Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) is an iconic vessel for bon mots in her own right. In fact, the vest-loving high schooler is arguably the best character in the 2004 cult favourite. Because, when you really think about it, it’s highly unlikely the Plastics would have stayed together long enough to create the chaos that Mean Girls is born out of if it weren’t for Karen. Does anyone really believe Gretchen and Regina George (Amy Adams) would have survived as BFFs without Karen there as a beautiful, rain-predicting buffer? Exactly.
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This brings us to the fantastic Karen Smith in Mean Girls the musical, who is currently ribbon dancing her way through New York City's Broadway scene. This Karen, played by Kate Rockwell of Legally Blonde the musical and Bring It On the musical fame, takes all of the fun of the Taco Bell fan and tosses on a few necessary new layers to the character. And, the best 2018 update proves Karen may just be the feminist hero no one expected from Tina Fey’s beloved creation.
At the top of the Broadway hit’s second act, Damian (Grey Henson) performs a song titled “Stop” at heroine Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen) begging her to, well, stop obsessing over crush Aaron Samuels (Kyle Selig). To make his point, Damian brings out a long line of North Shore High girls to give testimonials about the ills of not pumping the brakes when trying to hunt down your would-be bae. Sweet Karen’s story is the most moving as she explains that, at 13, she sent a nude photo to her crush and didn’t crop her head out of the image. Now, the picture is forever immortalised on a disturbing porn site called “Amateur Tweens.”

Just teach boys not to take nude pictures of women and put them on the internet

Kate Rockwell
Maybe Karen should have stopped to think before sending, as the song posits, or, as Karen smartly counters, “Someone should just teach boys to not do that in the first place.” Because, as the teen sings, “[She’s] actually a human being a not a prop.” With just a few sentences, Mean Girls has perfectly broken down a supposedly obscure topic like nude photo etiquette.
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“What I love about Karen is she doesn’t over complicate anything,” Karen’s portrayer Kate Rockwell told Refinery29 ahead of her big cast performance at the upcoming, CBS-airing Tony Awards on Sunday 10th June (so, yes, the actress’ Mean Girls persona will officially be part of the TV world, justifying her much-deserved Role Call appearance). “Everything is very simple and sometimes that gives her an incredibly clear perspective on what is going on around her and what it should be or what it is.”
In this case, as Rockwell explains, that clear perspective is, “Just teach boys not to take nude pictures of women and put them on the internet.” It truly is that easy and, thanks to Karen’s “duh” attitude about how to fix an issue like revenge porn, we all remember an important truth according to Rockwell: “We are the reason this [problem] still exists in society. It’s entirely in our control. We have the power to change it.”
Despite the fact Karen that isn’t sharing these thought-provoking concepts as revelations, Rockwell points out her character’s big line still gets a “strong reaction” from the audience. “Because it is a bit of a throwaway. Because it’s not pounded. She’s not thrusting that forward into the audience, so you really react to it,” the actress explained hours before rehearsals for the Tonys, where her musical is tied for the most nominations at the 2018 awards show.
It becomes clear Karen’s most memorable moments arise when she shares major pieces of wisdom as supposed “throwaway” lines. That is certainly the case for Rockwell’s barn burner of number, “Sexy,” wherein Karen sings about her ardent, unapologetic love for sexy Halloween costumes. While the song is peppered with references to silly things like sex cancer (“Sex cancer doesn’t exist!” Gretchen reminds her friend), sexy Rosa Parks, and, of course, a sexy mouse, the real heart of the track comes in when Rockwell belts, “This is modern feminism talking. I expect to run the world in shoes I cannot walk in.”
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“That line is also really important and people skip over it,” Rockwell said, revealing that small portion of “Sexy,” showed up late in the song development process with “genius” lyricst Nell Benjamin. The actress continued, “I was like, ‘Thank you for this. It shows that Karen knows what she’s doing.’ She understands the power in sexuality and her power in being beautiful.”
Although some may not find the idea of dominating the world in impossible-to-wear shoes an empowering idea, that simply isn’t the way Karen sees the world, because she enjoys being the centre of attention. And, she is not a weak character for it. “Karen just loves being looked at … She doesn’t feel badly that is important to her. It’s just important to her,” Rockwell explained, pointing out the fact Karen works hard to put her perfectly coiffed self out there. Why shouldn't she revel in all that effort?
“There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and wanting that to be something you can use in your tool box, as long as it’s not the only thing you have," Rockwell added, saying she never feels “victimised” in her role. “Because it is absolutely part of being a woman: the idea that being sexy is okay. I have no qualms with that, and I don’t think I’m setting anybody back or being a bad role model by playing a character who wants that.”
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