Growing up Jewish in Fargo prepared Natalie Shaw for “Mean Girls” role

By Lee J. Green

Through her journey from Fargo, N.D., to Broadway, actress Natalie Shaw can relate to her character in “Mean Girls,” which comes to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Oct. 17 to 23 with the Broadway in Birmingham series.

The show will be at the River Center in Baton Rouge on Nov. 5, then the Saenger Theater in Pensacola on Nov. 6 and 7. After some time in the Midwest, the show returns to the area with the Gogue Performing Arts Center in Auburn on Nov. 28 and 29, and the Von Braun Center in Huntsville from Dec. 15 to 17.

Shaw plays the lead, Cady Heron, a young woman who grew up on an African savanna and must adjust to high school in suburban Illinois. The musical, which is based on the movie by Tina Fey, opened on Broadway in April 2018.

“I loved the movie so much and I feel like I can relate to the character,” played in the movie by Lindsay Lohan, said the 26-year-old Shaw. “I was one of only a handful of Jewish students at my high school. It’s that balance of being true to yourself and also assimilating to an environment in which you sometimes feel like you’re an outsider.”

She said the musical builds upon the movie. “It’s more layered, but it’s still campy, funny and flashy,” said Heron, who after four auditions earned her role in the national touring production that opened last month.

“It just seems surreal. To come from a small town to moving to New York City to my first national tour, it’s just a dream,” she said. “And I owe a lot of this to my Jewishness. It has shaped me to be the person I am today.”

Shaw said Fargo’s Jewish community was “small but involved” when she and her twin sister, Jenny, lived there. She was inspired by her rabbi at her Reform congregation, Temple Beth-El.

“She played her guitar and really made the music such an integral part of the services,” said Shaw. “I just fell in love with the gorgeous music and felt the significance of what we were doing.”

After her Bat Mitzvah, Shaw got really involved in acting as a teen and through high school. She would go on to do some summer theatre while in high school at the acclaimed Trollwood Performing Arts School.

She earned her degree in Theatre Arts, Creative Writing and Film Studies at the University of Minnesota. “I feel that learning about writing is very helpful for actors. It allowed me to find my own way,” said Shaw.

After graduating, she played the role of Janet in “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at a regional theatre in Minnesota. The director of that show worked on “The Prom” with the director of the “Mean Girls” touring Broadway show and put in a good word for her.

Since moving to New York in 2019, Shaw has worked on various projects including “Audrey: The New Musical” off-Broadway and in the Marvel TV series “Daredevil” on Disney Plus. But initially, she did various jobs from commercial acting to teaching to a talent agent for voice-over artists.

“I love New York for all the opportunities it affords,” she said. “I think that this is all connected. To get my foot in the door, I did some behind-the-scenes jobs. I met my musical theatre agent this way and it really helped open things up. It’s all about trying, learning and not being afraid to fail.”

Shaw said she relishes the opportunity to travel across the U.S. and Canada, visiting most places for the first time. She said she has already found “a community away from home” with the production.

“I’m going to enjoy every moment being a part of this,” she said, adding that she has never been to Birmingham and the Deep South. ”It’s great to connect with audiences and (Jewish) communities across North America. It’s such a fun show that I know so many can relate to.”

Shaw did say that she’ll miss her sister while on tour. She lives in New York with Jenny, who is also an actress and an improv artist with the Upright Citizens Brigade, who also started her own improv troupe.

“I have two dreams and goals. One is to book a Broadway show in New York and the other is to co-host a TV show with my sister,” she said. “We have a bond that’s inseparable.”