Cue the ominous lights. Pile on the vampirish makeup. And bring out the witches’ brooms.
The stage is set for Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ 172th production, “Mean Ghouls,” an original musical comedy about a high school populated by monsters that opens this weekend.
“The show is teenagers meet Transylvania,” says cast vice president Scott Kall. “Double the tropes, double the fun.”
“Mean Ghouls” features more women than men onstage, a first for the Harvard University theatrical group, which excluded women from its cross-dressing casts until last year. Now, seven women and five men will portray the gender-fluid cohort of singing ghosts and ghouls. In fact, all of the new cast members this year are female.
In the show, Mia Ghenstaworld arrives in Transylvania after a bad bout of plastic surgery turns her mother into a zombie. The human teenager transfers to a school in the world of the undead. There, Mia becomes the target of a mean-spirited bully and falls head-over-heels for a bad boy werewolf.
“Eventually, Mia has to help save the town from the evil she has unleashed onto it,” explains Kall.
The production premieres Friday after the society honors Tony Award winner Ben Platt as its Man of the Year. Hasty Pudding performs on campus through March 8 and then takes the show to New York City and Bermuda.
Andrew Farkas, chairman of the Hasting Pudding Institute of 1770 and a Harvard alum, allowed all genders to be cast following protests from students and onetime Woman of the Year, Mila Kunis, in 2018.
Two years later, junior Elle Shaheen (who plays Mia) says coed casting at the Pudding feels more like the new norm.
“I think the fact that women are here has settled,” says Shaheen, one of the six women who stepped into the limelight last year. “It solidifies that we are here to stay and that we are not going anywhere. It’s also another call back to the fact that there’s an entire pool of students here that were not previously allowed.”
Kall believes the addition of female castmates added a dose of professionalism behind the scenes.
“Already it’s a whole different ballgame,” says Kall, who plays the hunchback Igor Toplease in “Mean Ghouls.” “The caliber of people we have coming in and joining the cast — it’s really a lot of people who want to do this with their lives and take this thing very seriously.”
Friday’s performance caps off more than eight months of work from the society’s approximately 50 members. Writers, lyricists, directors, and composers worked on perfecting the songs and dialogue for four months before the production was cast in mid-September.
Between the show’s comedic elements lies an important lesson on adolescent troubles and self-love.
“The show is funny, but it doesn’t lack in a plot line that’s important," says Fotini Anastopoulos, the assistant director choreographer. “It really touches on points that are relevant in today’s society.”
Longtime fans do not need to worry though — the current members are dedicated to keeping up the laughs and adhering to the tenets that have made Hasty Pudding an institution.
President Eli Russell says “Mean Ghouls” is fresh, but “still filled with the tradition the society is known for in a lot of ways.”
Written by Jess Moore and Jake Gilbert. Directed by Larry Sousa. Presented by Hasty Pudding Theatrical Society. At Farkas Hall, Cambridge, through March 8. Tickets start at $30, 617-495-5205, www.hastypudding.org
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.