Bring It On The Musical
Also see Sharon's review of Radiance
A 9-year-old child of my acquaintance praised Bring It On The Musical as "better than Les Misιrables." While my first thought, upon hearing this, was "Why did her mother think a 9-year-old kid would really relate to Les Misιrables?," my second thought, was "Why did I think that I would really relate to Bring It On?" In terms of a show with a phenomenal score, a thought-provoking book, or a slick, well-produced laugh-fest, Bring It On is a dramatic failure. But as a show with eye-popping choreography, and a book that has something to say to tween girls who love High School Musical and hope to grow up to be just like Elphie and Glinda when they go to college, Bring It On scores.
The plot actually has more going on than I initially anticipated. We are introduced to Campbell, the captain of the Truman High Buccaneers cheerleading squad. And she tells us her goal: to win Nationals. We meet her classmates, including her second-in-command, Skylar (a self-described "bee-yotch"); Bridget, the overweight girl with low self-esteem who is always relegated to dressing as the mascot; and Eva, the young sophomore whom Campbell takes under wing and puts on the varsity squad when Skylar thinks she should be in junior varsity. (Noticeably absent from Bring It On are any adults. There is no teacher or coach who makes the final calls on membership in Truman High's cheerleading squad; it all falls to Campbell. Indeed, later in the show, when it is necessary for someone to deliver a little adult wisdom to Campbell, another student relays to her something that the school custodian taught him.)
After Campbell forms the squad, we see them go off to Cheer Camp, where Eva struggles, and Campbell does her best to encourage the young girl. With all of the time spent on team formation and Cheer Camp, you pretty much think you know where the show is going. But it throws a curve: redistricting forces Campbell (and Bridget) out of Truman and into Jackson Higha school with metal detectors, a more diverse student body, and (gasp) no cheerleading at all. And now you pretty much think you know where the show is going, as Campbell will transform the "hip-hop crew" at Jackson into a tight cheerleading squad and take on Truman at Nationals. You wouldn't be entirely wrong if that's what you thought, but you wouldn't be entirely right.
The best thing about Bring It On is, undeniably, the high-flying acrobatic cheerleading routines and the high energy hip-hop dance sequences. (You go, Andy Blankenbuehler!) But the second best thing about Bring It On is that it's about something more than a cheerleading competition. It's about the fact that, at Jackson, Bridget isn't just thrown into the mascot suit, but is appreciated for who she is; and that, without Campbell's perky, peppy, rich, white friends around her, Campbell has to figure out who she really is.
Don't get me wrong; there isn't a lot of depth here. Probably the weakest moment of the show is when Campbell stands alone onstage and sings her touching number about how she may be down but she's not yet out and is still going to fight for what she wants. Taylor Louderman tries her best here, but it's really hard to care about whether Campbell wins Nationals. (Points here to the show for taking the time earlier to show us Campbell being nice to Eva; otherwise, there'd be no reason at all to like Campbell.) The show gets better in the second act, where we see Bridget actually bloom once she's no longer trying to fit in with the popular clique and is encouraged to be herself by some of the Jackson kids. (As memorable numbers go, the be-who-you-are-and-screw-anyone-who-doesn't-like-it "It Ain't No Thing" is the only song I'm even close to humming two days later.)
This show seems designed to tour, which may be the best place for it. There's not much of a seta flat floor (I couldn't spot a degree of rake from where I was sitting, probably for safety for all of the acrobatics, but it may affect the view if you're sitting up close), four video screens, some rolling rows of lockers, and little else. (Aside to the set designer, choreographer, and dance captain: when your lyrics make a big deal about how competitors are not supposed to cross the outside line on the competition floor, you either need to move the line further out, or make certain your dancers don't accidentally cross it. At the performance reviewed, the Truman team crossed the line repeatedly at Regionals, with no adverse consequences, which really makes no sense at all in the context of the show.)
The music is provided by a seven-member orchestra (two keyboards, two guitars, a bass, drums, and percussion), which is loud enough, but could just as easily be pre-recorded. (There's nothing lush here.) The score tends toward generic pop and hip hop, and the bigger numbers are mainly designed to pump up crowds, often with endless repetition of a catchy hook. Lyrics, when they can be heard (the group enunciation needs work) are sometimes surprisingly witty (although both book and lyrics sometimes venture into profanity or sex-talk, which might give parents of younger kids pause).
I can't really see a show this light weight making a splash on Broadway; but with its stereotype-smashing message and impressive dance and cheer sequences, it's a lot of harmless fun.
Bring It On The Musical runs through December 10, 2011 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles. For tickets and information, see www.centertheatregroup.org.
Center Theatre Group Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Edward L. Rada, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director with Universal Pictures Stage Productions/Glenn Ross; Beacon Communications/Armyan Bernstein & Charlie Lyons; and Kristin Caskey & Mike Isaacson Executive Producers present Bring It On The Musical. Libretto by Jeff Whitty; Music by Tom Kitt & Lin-Manuel Miranda; Lyrics by Amanda Green & Lin-Manuel Miranda. Inspired by the Motion Picture Bring It On Written by Jessica Bendinger. Set Design David Korins; Costume Design Andrea Lauer; Lighting Design Jason Lyons; Sound Design Brian Ronan; Video Design Jeff Sugg; Hair & Wig Design Charles G. LaPointe; Casting Telsey + Company; Production Stage Manager Bonnie Panson; Technical Supervisor Jake Bell; Production Supervisor Lis Dawn Cave; Tour Press Representative Phillip Aleman; General Management 321 Theatrical Management; Arrangements & Orchestrations Tom Kitt & Alex Lacamoire; Music Coordinator Michael Keller; Music Director Dave Pepin; Music Supervision & Dance Arrangement Alex Lacamoire; Directed & Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler.