On Stage: Downingtown’s Morrissey hitting it big in national tour of ‘Mean Girls’

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Mary Kate Morrissey
(Photo: Emilio Madrid-Kuser for Broadway.com)

Just as every young basketball player has dreams of playing in the NBA or WNBA or every young musician envisions a career as a rock star, almost every young girl or boy who acts in local theater – or even in school productions – dreams of someday being in a Broadway musical.

The odds are stacked against it really happening – but it can happen.

Coatesville’s Richard “Rip” Hamilton went from playing street ball on the city’s playgrounds to being a three-time NBA All Star with the Detroit Pistons.

Bishop Shanahan’s Fred Mascherino went from playing in local bands to international acclaim with bands such as Taking Back Sunday and Terrible Things.

Another Shanahan grad has reached the top tier in the theater world — Mary Kate Morrissey.

Morrissey was in local and school theater productions as well as choruses and jazz choirs ever since she was a young girl growing up in Downingtown.

After receiving a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University, Morrissey moved to New York. In 2013, she was a cast member in the National Tour of “Hair.”

Then, it was onward to bigger and better things – playing the key role of Elphaba in the National Tour of “Wicked” from 2015-2019.

Now, Morrissey is playing another pivotal role in a National Tour of a hit Broadway musical – Janis Sarkisian in “Mean Girls.”

This week, Morrissey will get to make her Academy of Music debut when “Mean Girls” visits Philly for a run from November 19-December 1 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333,www.kimmelcenter.org) as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series.

“I did high school plays at Bishop Shanahan,” said Morrissey, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We did ‘Barnum,’ when I was a sophomore and then I played Fantine in ‘Les Miserables’ when I was a junior. In my senior year, sister gave me the lead role for ‘Evita.’

“Singing has always been a big part of my life. I come from a big Irish Catholic family and my grandfather used to sing on Irish radio.

“I played volleyball when I was in grade school. But I couldn’t do sports in high school because I was involved in the jazz band, the concert band, the chorus and a lot of plays. I also sang in The All State Choir.

“When I was 10, my mom took me to see my first Broadway music. The show was ‘The Lion King.’ That was a major event in my life.”

Now, “Mean Girls’ is the major event in her life.

“Mean Girls” is a musical with music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and a book by Tina Fey. It is based on the 2004 film of the same name written by Fey, which, in turn, was inspired by the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman.

The musical premiered at the National Theatre, Washington, D.C., in October 2017 and opened on Broadway in April 2018 at the August Wilson Theatre. The National Tour of “Mean Girls” opened in Buffalo, New York at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, on September 21, 2019.

“We started rehearsals back in August,” said Morrissey. “I play Janis Sarkisian. She’s the Goth girl – the scorned one.

“I saw the movie when it first came out. Everybody did. It was geared to my generation. The play has the same story as the movie, but it’s been updated. You can see the same characters.

“Social media wasn’t as big back when the movie came out in 2004. Tina (Fey) has put in how social media can make or break you – and about talking with emojis.”

Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard introduce us to Cady Heron, breaking the fourth wall and inviting the audience on their journey. Heron and her parents have moved to a Chicago suburb from Kenya, but she soon realizes that her high school classmates do not readily accept others who differ from them, yet she is ready to accept the challenge of friendship at the school.

Heron is excited by the prospect of making new friends, but no one seems to like her or even acknowledge her. The show traces Heron’s challenge to deal with this different culture.

“I love the part I’m playing,” said Morrissey. “It’s very empowering to the viewer. I was familiar with it because I had been exposed to all the class distinctions in high school.

“I like Janis because she’s fiery. I think she’s really smart. When she does something wrong, she knows it. She doesn’t care what other people think about her. I felt this way in high school because I was that total nerd – the band geek. I was an ugly duckling. I was a bottom feeder.”

Now, Morrisey is a stunningly beautiful Broadway actress who is sitting on top of the world and starring in an ultra-popular hit musical.

“Audiences like ‘Mean Girls’ because it is a really fun night out,” said Morrissey. “It is pop-rock music mixed with classical music theater. It’s very modern and it brings a lot of young people to the theater.”

Morrissey also has a bit of jock left in her.

“I’ve been running a lot lately,” said Morrissey. “Our cast as a running club. On November 23, we’re all running the Philadelphia Half Marathon.”

The show’s Philadelphia run will be a special one for Morrissey. It will lark the first time for her to appear onstage at Philadelphia’s venerable Academy of Music.

“I’m going to cry the first night at the Academy,” said Morrissey.

It might be tears of pain for Morrissey on November 23 after racing 13.1 miles but on November 18, it will be only tears of joy for the young actress.

Video link for “Mean Girls” – https://youtu.be/WMPtawcpIVk.

The show at the Academy of Music is running from November 19 through December 1. Ticket prices start at $20.

Kim Petras

Kim Petras, who is headlining a show on November 19 at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com), began recording music as a teenager and released her debut extended play “One Piece of Tape” in 2011.

She independently released her debut single in 2017 under her own imprint, BunHead Records. The Dr. Luke-produced “I Don’t Want It at All” went on to top several viral music charts on Spotify.

Her popularity has been increasing steadily ever since and her career now has the momentum of a runaway train.

“I Don’t Want It All” was followed by Billboard-charting singles “Feeling of Falling” (with Cheat Codes), “Heart to Break,” and “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up” (featuring Sophie).

Following her early success, Petras released a slew of digital singles which would later comprise her unofficial body of work known as “Era 1.” In October 2018, Petras released the Halloween-themed, novelty mix tape/EP “Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1.”

“I started working on the mix tape last year,” said Petras, during a recent phone interview.

“I was working on it at the same time I was writing the songs for ‘Clarity.’ Then, I did a headline tour after the first few singles.”

Petras’ first studio album “Clarity” was released June 28, 2019. The record was preceded with a nine-week-long promotional campaign, during which Petras released one single a week with an accompanying visual video. “Clarity” reached number seven on the Heatseekers Chart and number 26 on the Independent Albums chart.

On October 1, 2019, Petras’ second studio album “Turn Off the Light” was released. The album features songs from “Vol. 1” in addition to nine new tracks.

Petras hit the road with “The Clarity Tour” this fall. The tour started on October 21 in Vancouver and will conclude on December 8 in San Diego.

“I’m writing all the time,” said Petras. “I have my phone, my laptop and a MIDI keyboard so I can easily write when I’m on the road. I’ve written a lot of songs on ‘The Clarity Tour.’

“I’ve toured a lot since I started, In the last five years, I’ve continued to gain fans by playing shows. I’ve tripled my fanbase.”
“Clarity” launched into the Top 4 of the iTunes Pop Chart and featured the hit single “Icy” alongside a string of lauded singles which dominated Spotify’s “New Music Friday” and Apple Music’s “Best of The Week” for 10 consecutive weeks.

“The video for ‘Icy’ came out about three weeks ago after the European ‘Broken Tour,’” said Petras. “I had the whole concept done with Alexander Moore. I’m obsessed with Hollywood – Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Madonna. I love the past.

“One of my favorite videos ever is ‘Vogue’ by Madonna. The whole ‘Icy’ video is about becoming bionic in a way and, if I’m really glamorized, I become a stronger version of myself.”

Petras, who writes and sings good pop songs that have the potential to be earworms, was born in Germany 25 years ago and lived with her mother in Köln, Germany until a few years ago.

“I was 19 when I moved to the United States,” said Petras. “It was a little bit of a culture shock when I first got here.

“For me, it was kind of necessary. I couldn’t find the right producers to work with in Germany. And, learning the business was easier over here. Ever since the beginning, it’s been about writing good pop songs – learning the essence of writing a good pop song. It was really not that easy. I was writing a song every day.

“Then, Fergie got one of my songs and that led to a publishing deal. One of the songwriters I worked with on the song sent it to Interscope Records and Fergie recorded it. That’s when I really started buzzing as a songwriter.”

The song that Petras wrote for Fergie wasn’t released. But it generated enough buzz in the industry to land her a publishing deal with BMG.

“Then, I concentrated on working on my own records,” said Petras. “That was my master plan. I’ve always wanted to write great songs.

“I remember being a kid watching MTV – singers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera doing interviews. I became obsessed with the language. In fifth grade, I started taking English classes in school and learned the grammar.

“Learning the language as spoken just naturally happened. I’ve never had any interest in writing songs in German. I’ve learned English through listening to music – listening to Madonna and the Spice Girls. It’s also cool that English isn’t my native language because I say things in a different way.”

Petras’ command of the English language and her ability to write songs with good hooks has proven to be a successful combination.

“I put so much work into the music and being a good songwriter,” said Petras. “I’m just really proud of what I’m doing. I have so many songs written. The more I work; the more people will know me.”

Video link for Kim Petras — https://youtu.be/D8UNJDjygk0.

The show at the Fillmore, which has Alex Chapman as the opening act, will start at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $33.50.

Another music act that places an emphasis on its writing – especially lyric writing – is Hyborian, which is headlining a show on November 18 at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com).


Hyborian – Martin Bush – Guitar, Vocals; Ryan Bates – Guitar, Vocals; Justin Rippeto – Drums; Anthony Diale – Bass – is a hard-hitting metal band with a thunderous sound that rolls over audiences like a steamroller.

But Hyborian is also a band that wants its listeners to be more than headbangers – to be listeners who pay attention to and grasp the band’s lyrical narratives.

Hyborian released its debut album, “Hyborian: Vol. 1,” via Season of Mist in 2017. The powerful music characterized by massive riffs is complemented by a fitting lyrical concept.

“Our stuff is so conceptual,” said Bush, during a phone interview Friday. “It’s based on a novel with a concept and story line. The novel came out earlier this year.”

Hyborian has previously released the first edition of the original new book, “The Traveller — A Hyborian Tale,” which was written and illustrated by Bush. The 224-page sci-fi tale has been written as a companion piece for the band’s upcoming conceptual full-length, “Volume II,” which is due in early 2020.

“Hyborian Vol. 1” tells the story of an extraterrestrial being called The Traveller.

According to Bush, “Basically, The Traveller is a being that exists outside of humanity’s understanding of space and time. He wanders the cosmos, visiting and recording times of great strife or hardship, great suffering or great triumph.

“We are his chosen mouthpiece on Earth, so we relate those stories, whether from far in the past or far in the future. We are also heavily into cryptography, which resulted in several hidden messages on the album from The Traveller, posing a challenge to those listeners, who are curious enough to put in enough effort to find them.”

While the book was written by Bush, Hyborian’s music is made via a collaborative effort featuring all four members.

“I write the book and the band translates the lyrics,” said Bush. “It’s all done collaboratively. A lot of the lyrics get written in the studio.

“We all write together It’s not a process with guys in the band bringing song ideas to practice. It’s just us all together working on the music. It’s organic and real.”

Hyborian came into existence in Kansas City, Missouri in 2015.

“Me and Justin and Ryan have known each other forever,” said Bush. “We were in the same music scene in Kansas City but in different projects. All of us had been playing in other people’s projects – projects that were less heavy. That phase was just about getting a paycheck.

“We wanted to play the music we wanted to play – not someone else’s music. Four years ago, both projects ended. We started jamming together and here we are.”

Hyborian and The Traveller are moving forward together.

“The next album – ‘Vol. 2’ – is based around a father and son,” said Bush, “Both of them end up becoming cosmic beings.

“The album is done, and the release date is in the first quarter of 2020. This tour is just to get the songs road-tested a bit – getting our legs underneath it.”

Video link for Hyborian – https://youtu.be/2Y0bI24OZhU.

The show at MilkBoy Philly, which has Migrator, Moons, and Green Meteor as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13.

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