Show Information

Scott's Theatre Beat: Bring It On

15 September 2012

Bring It On Brought It ON!!

Bring It On: The Musical is a play about competing high school cheerleading squads, well, in the case of one of the schools it is more like a crew.  This show is loosely based on the film Bring It On and the sequel Bring It On: All or Nothing, but it is not simply a rehash of those movies, this surprises with character development and plot twists.

     Campbell, very well played by newcomer Taylor Louderman, has just been elected captain of the cheerleading squad for the next school year. It will be her senior year, and this is an honor she has been working for since she started cheerleading. As the school year is coming to an end, we meet three other characters who will play a part in the unfolding story.  Skylar (Kate Rockwell) is the vain, super popular cheerleader who has a diva’s personality. She wanted to be the squad captain but is not upset when Campbell is selected because the position actually requires work.  Bridget (Ryann Redmond) who plays Trueman High’s team mascot is the overweight girl who has always wanted to be a full-fledged squad member but is never given the chance.  She is the one with whose self-image is being defined by the girls of the cheerleading squad of which she so desperately wants to be a part.  As things develop she will have her day in the sun but not with Trueman High.  Eva (Elle McLemore) is the newest member of the squad. She is the sophomore neighbor and protégé of Campbell, but oh what surprises this seemingly innocent girl has in store.

     Over the summer Campbell discovers that she has been re-districted to Jackson High, a tough school in a part of the city where metal detectors are used at the door. She suddenly goes from being a top dog to an also ran in the new school.  Bridget has also been transferred to the same school but it is not devastating for her since this is a whole new group of kids with which she has no past. It is a chance to become someone new.

     Now things get interesting. The hints that this was not the usually predictable teen rivalry story begins with the introduction of the students of Jackson High. This is a tough school and Campbell is completely out of her league. The main force to be reckoned with is Danielle a no nonsense leader of the dance crew.  Played with great skill and a terrific voice by Adrienne Warren who is making her Broadway debut.  Her sidekicks Nautica (Ariana DeBose) and La Cienega (Gregory Haney) are a fantastic Greek chorus to the strong leadership of Danielle.

     Campbell sees immediately the possibility of turning the dance crew into a cheerleading squad to compete against Trueman High.  She convinces Danielle and the others with lies about the prizes to be given to the winners. This event is the crux of the story and the thing that keeps the story from delivering the trite conclusions that these types of stories usually do deliver.  It gives instead a message on the importance of solidarity and friendship. 

     Yes, the schools are competing, and yes, Campbell wants to redeem her lost cheerleading status. The main lesson she learns is that there are more important things than an individual’s social status.  It also delivers the view that personal integrity and self-esteem are more important than conformity.  Bridgett is the character who clarifies this message by going from a marginal member of the group at Trueman to a central player at Jackson.

     The cast is made up of many newcomers to Broadway, and they have clearly worked very hard to perfect the complexity of the cheerleading routines in addition to the regular dance numbers. The acrobatics of the supporting cast is a wonder to behold with breathtaking flips and leaps, and the human pyramids built on-stage.  The dance numbers are beautifully integrated into the story and help the action move easily.

     This show started as a national tour and the sparseness of the sets reflects that fact.  David Korins’ set design uses rotating LED light panels to provide a sense of dimension to the staging of the scenes.  They are used more with the scenes at Trueman High and in the bedrooms of Campbell and later Eva but they work better than similar technology that has been used in other shows.  The set for Jackson High are ingeniously designed hall lockers. They are used to great effect in all of the scenes at Jackson including the dance numbers. I found the use of the electronics to be effective for this show.  Jeff Sugg’s created the projections that are used on the light panels, and they work well.  Jason Lyon’s lighting is very well designed and adds to the energy of the production numbers and effectively sets the mood for the various dramatic interactions.

     Jeff Whitty wrote a libretto that took, what seemed to be a basic, clichéd filled, high school story about personality clashes and gave it some fresh twists and turns. The other members of this creative ensemble contributed significantly to the effectiveness of the production.  Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda provided the music and Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda the lyrics. The songs range from, Broadway to pop, r&b, hip hop, and rap, and they worked very well with some of them, actually rising above the usual filler sound.

     There was a tendency, with the singers, to sing at full volume all of the time. This tendency is especially problematic when you consider that they are being amplified.  The sound direction adds an additional element, and for this show, as is the case for many current musicals, the sound direction is not well managed. The subtlety of a well turned lyric or a melodic passage is lost, and all of the vocals sound as if they are coming from the center of the stage regardless of where the performers are actually standing.  It is very much like listening to a cd recording at home.

     Adrienne Warren and Taylor Louderman are two of the few exceptions to the singing problem.  They both handled the vocals with skill and a clear understanding on how to sell a song without trying to make it a full-throated show-stopper.

     Last, but not least, is the work of Andy Blankenbuehler, whose direction and choreography makes this show work as well as it does.  He brings together all of the elements of the story, illuminating some of the joys and pains of high school.  He skillfully turns on the energy for the dance numbers and dials it back for the more dramatic scenes.  He keeps the show moving and mostly free of predictability.  In the end, he has guided his cast and creative team to provide a solid entertainment for two hours and twenty minutes.

     Originally scheduled for a 12 week run over the summer it has now been extended to January 20. It is not just a show for teenagers, although that is clearly one of its strong marketing elements, but is engaging entertainment for people of all ages.  The show is at the St. James Theatre.

© Scott L Bennett, Jr.  2012

<- Back