Another op’nin’, another…exploitation of child labor?

Mean Girls just announced that Reneé Rapp — a high schooler! — will replace last year’s Tony Award nominee Taylor Louderman as Regina George (AKA: Rachel McAdams)

Rapp joins Andrew Beth Feldman — who recently donned Evan Hansen’s blue shirt — as the second actor this year to transition from hallway lockers directly to Broadway dressing rooms, taking over roles originated by more conventional, later-career thespians.

On its surface, this phenomenon seems worth celebrating. From the dawn of time, usually adults — be they 20-somethings, or even peeps in their 30s — have been tasked with de-aging themselves to play students, an icky trend that not only breeds condescendingly infantilized caricatures, but also suggests that only time affords enough experience to breed a perspective that can capture the complexity defying those currently in the throes of actually living through hormone-ravaged firsts. And when it comes to women specifically, casting someone older perpetuates American society’s obsession with sexualizing the pubescent, a trope brutally and brilliantly satirized by Claire Barron with the textually-stipulated all-ages ensemble in her Pulitzer-Prize finalist Dance Nation.

Less pedantically, Broadway should always strive to represent all walks of life, no matter how young. Plus, since teenagers are these musicals’ prime demographic, they could naturally respond more to seeing themselves on stage, emphasizing the similarities in their plights. And if these actors are resonating more with these audiences, then there’s a good chance the commercial fortunes of these shows will be on the rise.

And that’s where things get sticky. As a former dabbler in producing, I’m all too aware that most decisions are not made with purely artistic reasons in mind. Improving the quality of the art will hopefully increase cash flow, but few phrases warm the insatiably money-grubbing cockles of impresarios more than “cutting costs.”

And that’s why I’m a bit hesitant to fully endorse these latest moves by Dear Evan Hansen and Mean Girls. Is it possible that young’uns are so appetizing because their salaries are far below what a normal replacement would fetch? If that’s the case, then shame on the powers-that-be here, especially if the buzz created by Rapp and Feldman result in dollar, dollar bills y’all that end up in other pockets.

There’s probably no need to sound the alarm yet. Maybe they’re being adequately-compensated! If so, yay! But if not, and if other productions follow their leads (no pun intended) in the coming months, a journalist with more access clout than yours truly should really look into the situation. That’s all I can definitively say…

For now.

(Speaking of which, R.I.P. to the decidedly child-unfriendly Avenue Q:


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