Off Broadway Review: ‘Clueless’ the Musical

How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, make this further take on Jane Austen’s upscale do-gooder “Emma” a delight once again.

This playful, upbeat show should be an easy sell both Off Broadway, where it premiered in a production from The New Group, and in the provinces, thanks to the film’s legion of fans. But its lightweight narrative keeps it at the enjoyable-fluff level, even if its two-hour-plus length wears out its welcome just a tad, and the once-freshness of its comedy of ‘90s modes and manners is lessened by what have since become stereotypes.

Whatever. The look, tone and ’tude of the show, directed with the clip of the flick by Kristin Hanggi (“Rock of Ages”), is spot-on. Its fantasy life of ultra-rich teens — where all school cliques live in peace and harmony — is here further enlivened with songs of the era, cleverly recrafted lyrically for the show by Heckerling, who also wrote the musical’s book. Props to the savvy selection of tunes — including songs from the Spin Doctors, Dee-Lite, En Vogue and N’ Sync  — and to the music’s integration into the characters’ lives and stories by music director Matthew Smedal and music supervisor-arranger-orchestrator Ethan Popp.