That lightbulb moment – when you realize exactly what it is you want to do.…
Getting cast as Cady Heron, the lead role in Mean Girls, was a surreal moment for actor English Bernhardt.
“It caught me by surprise,” says Bernhardt, who had been a standby and later, understudy in the production. “It felt so overwhelming to do the role every night. I feel so lucky. It’s been a journey.”
Opening Tuesday and playing Altria Theater through September 25, Mean Girls opened on Broadway in April 2018 to rave reviews at the August Wilson Theatre. The contemporary musical features a book by nine-time Emmy Award winner Tina Fey based on her screenplay for the film, music by three-time Emmy Award winner Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominee Nell Benjamin. Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs.
Bernhardt’s character Cady grew up on an African savanna and wasn’t prepared for the vicious ways of her strange new home in suburban Illinios. Her desire to be popular led her to befriend The Plastics, a trio of mean girls led by the ruthless Regina George.
“They are like plastic Barbie dolls,” Bernhardt says. “They see Cady as a project and take her under their wings. Cady gets wrapped up in that. She tries to fit it, but loses herself in the process. Her real friends and the guy she likes like her better as herself. She finally realizes she can be different and unique and that is what makes you special.”
Bernhardt can see parts of Cady in herself. “She is grounded and sweet,” she says. “We all want to fit in and belong. I really admire that she is so honest, even at the end when she has been humiliated and embarrassed. It’s what she has to do.”
She has grown to like Cady as a character over the past few months. “She is a special character because we can relate to her in one way or another. She’s very relevant, especially in the social media realm.”
Bernhardt started her acting career at a young age in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I grew up in a house that was very musical,” she says. “My mother sang and played music.”
She started ballet at two and a half and later attended the North Carolina Theater Conservatory in Raleigh where she got to network with performers and directors from New York.
“My dance background helped me in musical theater,” she says. “I was able to be in my first regional production, The Music Man, at the age of eight. It was an unbelievable opportunity.”
Bernhardt moved to New York City after graduating from Elon University and appeared in the first national tour of the musical If/Then with Idina Menzel.
“Acting is something where you can grow and continue to get better constantly,” she says, adding that since stepping into the role of Cady she continues to find new moments where she can put herself into the character’s shoes.
Even though Mean Girls reflects the uglier parts of society, she says, it “still leaves you feeling hopeful.”
Approximately two and a half hours with intermission, Mean Girls is recommended for about twelve and up. Tickets for the show are at BroadwayInRichmond.com, the Altria Theater Box Office, or by calling 1-800-514-3849(ETIX).